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The IBI has submitted its response to the BAI’s draft Broadcasting Services Strategy.

The viability of independent radio stations must be the central, predominant and principal consideration for the BAI at all times”, said Scott Williams, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland and CEO of Q102. “Regrettably, certain elements of the proposed strategy will ultimately threaten rather than support a strong, viable independent broadcasting sector”.

“The IBI is strongly opposed to the proposal to impose a cash sum payment on broadcasters for a sound broadcasting licence and wants this proposal removed entirely from the BAI strategy. A cash sum payment as envisaged would amount to a second unnecessary levy on the sector at a time when many stations are under financial pressure”.

“It is also extremely important that permitted levels of ownership are maintained at the current level of 25%.  The proposal to reduce ownership to 20% is without merit or any justification.  All media ownership changes must also be approved by Competition Authority in any case. This provides adequate protection against monopoly positions developing within the sector. The higher level of ownership must be maintained to allow for greater diversity for the radio listener”, said Williams.

The majority of the country’s local radio franchises will be relicensed over the coming two years and the IBI has made a number of key recommendations in this regard.   The IBI believes that the BAI should conduct a sectoral impact study before considering the award of any additional radio licences. It also believes the experience of incumbent broadcasters must be a key determinant in all license awards.

“In awarding a broadcasting contract particular weighting must be given to the high levels of listenership to independent radio stations and the amount of public service broadcasting done by independent stations.  This public service broadcasting is not acknowledged by Government or the BAI and the funding of public sector broadcasting must be urgently reviewed.  We believe it is anti-competitive to fund public service broadcasting on RTÉ only, whilst also allowing RTÉ to raise additional funds through advertising and sponsorship”.

“Given the high number of franchise areas to be relicensed and the resources this will require from both regulator and applicant, fast-tracking of licences must be adopted by the Contracts Awards Committee as its next step rather than an optional move” said Williams.

“This strategy is of extreme importance to IBI members. The greatest asset that broadcasters have is access to the airwaves and the strategy will define the key structures by which independent radio licences will be issued in the coming years”, he said.  “It is in the interests of the listening public that this BAI strategy is carefully implemented in a manner to support the broad based local, regional and national radio broadcasting sector in Ireland.

The IBI submission can viewed here