The Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) has called on the Minister for Communications to hold a meeting with the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland and RTÉ to establish a fair and equitable broadcasting landscape for Irish radio listeners. Such a meeting would be the first of its kind.
Addressing the IBI annual broadcasting conference in Dublin today which was attended by representatives of Ireland’s 34 independent radio stations, John Purcell said that the BAI report on the funding of RTÉ which the Minister is due to receive shortly, cannot be viewed in isolation to the overall broadcasting landscape of the country. Independent broadcasting comprises 67% of the radio market and 7 out of every 10 minutes listened to radio in Ireland is to an independent radio station.
“RTÉ cannot be allowed to dominate the debate or monopolise the future. This has gone on for too long. What is essential is that the debate and decisions that are taken are grounded in what is best for Irish audiences and not just what is best for a single institution. We must all have a viable future, Independents and RTÉ. Ultimately, this is about securing the future of a diverse broadcasting sector where the listening public are the real winners. We have a fantastic opportunity to show how public and private can work together to improve the services provided to the Irish public. But we need to have equal voices around the table and, together with the Minister, hammer out a sensible proposition on how the new broadcasting charge will be distributed.”
“The principle of making a reasonable proportion of the license fee available to independent broadcasters has long been accepted through the Sound and Vision Scheme. Arguing over whether any of the license fee should be available to independent broadcasters is a red herring,” he said. “Despite the fact that RTÉ is a minority player in terms of audience they hold a virtual stranglehold on public funding from the license fee. This needs to change.”
“RTÉ is permitted to operate in the best of all possible worlds. It has seen its commercial revenue decline, but it has the safety net of the license fee. It can operate on a ruthlessly competitive basis in the commercial sphere citing its commercial obligations to maximise its revenues, regardless of the impact on other sections of the media. It can claim to be a public service broadcaster on the one hand and shamelessly seek audiences by whatever means necessary on the other. We don’t expect to be treated the same, but we want to be treated equitably.”
Mr. Purcell said “There is no doubt that with a deficit in the order of €60 million, RTÉ is facing severe pressures. However those same pressures are felt by independent broadcasters who do not have the luxury of a licence fee to shore up operations. We are seeking change, but on a win-win basis with RTÉ. We all value the positive contribution of RTÉ to broadcasting and to Irish life in general and want to see the state broadcaster on a sustainable footing, but that should not be at the expense of independent broadcasters, who in just 25 years have won a unique place in the hearts of Irish radio listeners,” he said.
“Like RTÉ, independent broadcasters also need security. We are deeply encouraged by Minister Rabbitte’s openness to providing financial recognition to all broadcasters engaged in public service broadcasting and I can assure him of the IBI’s support and willingness to engage in meaningful consultation under his chairmanship, to ensure a workable consensus is achieved.”
Mr. Purcell also called for a new approach to the funding of the regulator. “The BAI is currently funded by a levy on all broadcasters. The new broadcasting charge is expected to generate a higher level of income and we are calling for a proportion of this income to be used to fund the Regulator’s operations directly.”
Mr. Purcell said that with more than 1500 people employed in Ireland’s independent broadcasting sector, it’s economic, social and cultural contribution to Irish society was unquestionable and that despite the myriad of challenges facing the sector, it had a strong future.
He concluded saying; “Radio holds a unique place in Irish life. With the multiplicity of devices on which radio can now be enjoyed, it is ubiquitous in our daily lives and if we can grasp the opportunity to ensure the sector is well funded it will continue to do so well into the future.”