The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) which represents independent national, regional and local radio stations across Ireland today launched a Policy Document on the Future Funding of the Broadcasting Sector.
Speaking at the launch, IBI Chairman Scott Williams said: “Broadcasting remains one of the few sectors where unfair competition from a State-owned entity continues to distort the marketplace. Having successfully introduced competition in transport, energy, telecommunications, and other sectors, it is now time for the Government to finish what began more than 20 years ago and create a fair and balanced broadcasting sector”, he said.
Mr. Williams said that Independent radio stations are at the heart of communities all over Ireland providing platforms for public discourse, local and national politics, local news, sport and current affairs. “Seven out of every 10 minutes of all radio listening in Ireland is to an independent radio station. Every week our members provide more than 1300 hours of public service broadcasting content to local audiences. The provision of such strong public service content allows independent radio stations to connect local communities and reflect the culture and pride of the listeners to whom they broadcast. Our members are seeking a more evenly funded sector, so that they can continue to invest in quality programming and deliver extended public service broadcasting to their listeners”.
“We recognise that Ireland needs a state funded broadcaster and we fully support the public service contribution of RTÉ. However, this cannot be to the detriment of our members, who are listened to by in excess of two and half million people every day. It is worrying that, despite a recent enforcement decision by the Competition Authority, which described RTÉ as ‘dominant’ and obtaining a ‘competitive advantage’ from its dual funding, Minister Rabbitte continues to view RTÉ as the preferred broadcaster meriting extra rewards because of its public service remit.
“Independent stations are public service broadcasters too, but the State subsidy of the license fee is going exclusively to one broadcaster. That is unfair”, he declared.
“The Government must also recognize that like all independent radio stations, RTÉ is a commercial entity which also happens to have a public service broadcasting remit and that all radio stations, regardless of ownership, deserve to be supported by the new Public Service Broadcasting Charge. Twenty-three years ago RTÉ had 100% of the radio audience and received 100% of the license fee. Today, RTÉ has 30% audience share and still receives 100% of the license fee. Legislation to introduce the new Public Service Broadcasting Charge must reflect the changed broadcasting landscape and the technology developments which have transformed how radio is consumed”, he said.
“Let’s be blunt, RTÉ is not the BBC. The BBC is wholly funded by the British taxpayer and has no commercial revenue. RTÉ, on the other hand, has dual funding, receiving 100% of the TV licence fee while simultaneously aggressively seeking revenue from commercial advertising. Ireland stands out in Europe in the extent to which the state owned broadcaster remains so reliant on commercial revenue. This dual funding has distorted the market place to such an extent that the viability of many independent radio stations is at risk”.
The Programme for Government made a commitment to review the funding of public and independent broadcasters and the IBI is urging the Government to consider:
- Formal recognition of the significant public service broadcasting contribution of independent commercial radio.
- A new fund to support and develop public service broadcasting on independent commercial radio.
- Amendment of Section 108 of the 2009 Broadcasting Act to define and constrain the commercial mandate of RTÉ.
- Funding of the BAI to come from the new Public Broadcasting Charge.
“All we are asking is for fairness, for all stakeholders, our employees and our listeners, who ultimately will be the poorer if we do not have a strong, diverse broadcasting sector”, he said.
The IBI’s policy document (Creating a fair broadcasting sector that serves the whole community) can be read here