Local radio funding debate gets new airing
Independent TD John Halligan plans to table a broadcasting bill on public funding for local and community radio in the Dáil in the new year.
“If you look at how the licence fee was introduced in the 1960s, no one could have predicted the impact that local radio would have,” he says.
Halligan cites figures from the Joint National Listenership Research that suggest seven in every 10 minutes of radio listening in Ireland is to an independent station rather than RTÉ.
“Local radio makes a vast contribution to political life, and I think local radio stations are being quite badly treated to be honest, if you look at the employment they create,” he says, citing the station WLR FM in his Waterford constituency.
“When it suits politicians, they will jump on the local radio station. At election time, if you give them a choice between RTÉ and the local station, they will choose the local station, because that’s where they get the votes.”
Halligan tabled a question on the issue in October, describing it as “a democratic deficit” that the bulk of the licence fee goes to RTÉ. In reply, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte agreed that independent radio serves the needs of communities, but said they were founded as commercial operations “with the profit motive as their primary objective”.
The independent radio sector can access funding to make certain kinds of programmes under the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Sound and Vision Fund. But John Purcell, chariman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, describes it as “fundamentally flawed” because it does not fund live programming, “the mainstay of independent radio”.
According to Halligan, “the sacred cow of RTÉ has to be protected . . . but I think there is a need to look at how other stations are funded.”