The IBI has outlined its opposition to the key areas of the Broadcasting Authority Ireland’s Broadcasting Services Strategy and urged the Government to immediately implement radical change to broadcasting regulation in Ireland, including a review of state funding for RTÉ.
Scott Williams, Chairman of the IBI, which is the voice of the independent radio sector in Ireland, called for a long overdue and comprehensive restructuring of the state run radio stations.
“RTÉ Radio currently exists under a Public Service mandate and receives direct funding from every household in the state. Last year RTÉ Radio raised more than €31 million in commercial advertising revenue. This dual funding is not only against the spirit of RTÉ’s Public Service mandate but is also grossly anti-competitive in the current climate. All commercial advertising on RTÉ Radio 1 should be abolished and it should become a Public Service Station funded directly by the income from the Television Licence Fee”, he said.
“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to review the funding of independent and state funded broadcasters to ensure a viable broadcasting sector. The current Licence Fee was introduced in Ireland when RTÉ was the only broadcasting entity. Its continued existence confers an unfair advantage on RTÉ and is clearly anti-competitive in a market when all radio stations provide a strong public service dimension”, he added.
Mr Williams said the IBI is also strongly opposed to proposed changes to Ownership and Control outlined by the BAI, which he says is ‘change for the sake of change’. The BAI is proposing to reduce the cap on ownership from 25% to 20%.
“There is no need for this provision. No one broadcaster holds anywhere near 25% of the market so we fail to see why the BAI feels it necessary to reduce the cap to 20%. All ownership changes must also be approved by Competition Authority. This provides adequate protection against monopoly positions developing within the sector”
The IBI is also opposed to the BAI proposal to level a cash sum from successful licence applicants.
“This is a levy by another name and it is totally unjustified. The independent radio sector already contributes significantly to the costs of regulating the sector through the BAI levy. The BAI knows the financial pressures on radio stations with many restructuring operations in the face of falling revenues. To demand payment from successful licence applicants now is unrealistic and suggests that there is little understanding within the BAI of the realities of the environment in which we are operating’
Next year a number of radio licences are up for renewal and the IBI believes consideration must be given to the track record of incumbents. “We are calling on the BAI to refine its weighting system to give a particular overall weighting to the successful track record of an incumbent applicant”, said Scott Williams.
“The Minister’s proposals for a review on funding should be published and developed in tandem with the BAI’s broadcasting services strategy to provide certainty to all broadcasters and to ensure that we have a balanced and competitive broadcasting sector as envisaged in the Programme for Government”, he said.