The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) painted a stark picture for the future of independent radio in Ireland today in a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications.
John Purcell, Chairman of the IBI said “Next week marks 25 years since the first independent radio station went on air. The broadcasting landscape has been transformed and enriched with the licensing of over 34 independent radio stations across Ireland and over 2.5 million people tune into independent radio on a daily basis. Today close to 1500 people are employed in 34 independent radio stations and the sector is a vital economic and social contributor to the fabric of Ireland”.
“Public service broadcasting underpins the service we provide to our listeners throughout the 26 counties of Ireland and we’ve been campaigning for more than 10 years for this to be recognised by Government. The previous Minister for Communications, Minister Rabbitte recognised the Public Service role of our members but did absolutely nothing to change the current funding structures which sees RTE received taxpayers money supposedly to pay for the public service it provides, but in reality the license fee has been propping up the loss making 2FM – a pop station with absolutely no public service remit – to the tune of some €12 million.”, he said.
Mr. Purcell said; “The reality is that all decisions in relation to broadcasting in Ireland are viewed through the lens of protecting RTÉ and most worrying for our members is the fact that the new Minister for Communications, coming from an RTÉ background, may continue this policy. We sincerely hope that this is not the case and that Minister White will show the courage and vision lacking in his predecessors to implement real change and secure the future of Ireland’s independent broadcasting sector”.
“Political inaction is the greatest threat. It is no use for the Government or indeed politicians to pay ‘lip service’ to the need for a strong and vibrant independent broadcasting sector. We’re now at a crossroads where decisions taken at Government will greatly impact on the future of our sector. If we do not see a fair distribution of the money raised by the new Public Service Broadcasting Charge to the independent sector then the future for radio in Ireland is very bleak. We can expect rationalisation, consolidation and the loss of local programming which has increased the diversity and plurality of voices on Ireland’s airwaves and makes radio in Ireland unique throughout Europe. The number of people listening to radio in Ireland is higher than in any other country in the EU and there is no doubt that this is directly attributable to the local service programming provided by IBI members”.
“The introduction of the new Public Service Broadcasting Charge, which will replace the current TV licence gives a unique opportunity for Minister White to decide how we define and fund public service broadcasting in the future”, said Mr Purcell.
“Additional revenue raised by the new public service broadcasting charge should be allocated to both Independent broadcasters and some to the state broadcaster to support public service programming. This would be a win-win for everyone in radio. The new charge cannot be seen as a straight replacement of the current licence fee and used to prop up the state broadcaster to the detriment of independent broadcasters”.
Mr. Purcell said that the IBI had presented detailed proposals for how the Public Service Broadcasting Fund might operate for the benefit of both the State and Independent broadcasters to the Department of Communications and has sought an urgent meeting with the Minister White to discuss these proposals.
“The commercial mandate of RTÉ needs to be examined. It is an absolute disgrace that state broadcaster has been allowed to ‘have its cake and eat it’ for so long, enjoying both commercial revenues and a taxpayers’ subsidy through the licence fee. It is an untenable situation which cannot continue and the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland is at a loss to understand why this particular nettle has not been grasped long ago.
“A strong independent broadcasting sector is fundamental to our democratic society and it is in everyone’s interest that we now build on the fantastic achievements of the last 25 years so that we have a strong Independent sector and a strong State broadcaster for the benefit of all radio listeners for the next 25 years”, he said.