Radio stations ask new Minister for share of licence fee

Independent Broadcasters of Ireland group calls for public funding at Oireachtas hearing

John Purcell, chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland group. Photograph: Pat Moore.

John Purcell, chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland group. Photograph: Pat Moore.

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 04:51

Newly appointed Minister for Communications Alex White has been urged to share RTÉ’s licence fee income with commercial radio stations by the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) group.

The future for radio in Ireland is “very bleak” without public funding support, IBI chairman John Purcell said today.

The IBI, which is making a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications this afternoon, called on Mr White to reward the contribution made to broadcasting by non-RTÉ stations by granting them public funding.

Mr Purcell said that since the first commercial station went on air 25 years ago, the broadcasting landscape had been “transformed and enriched” by the licensing of more than 34 independent radio stations across Ireland, while more than 1,500 people are currently employed by those stations.

The chief executive of Carlow and Kilkenny station KCLR 96FM said Pat Rabbitte, the former Minister for Communications, had done “absolutely nothing to change the current funding structures”, which he said had allowed RTÉ to use licence fee income to prop up the loss-making 2fm, “a pop station with absolutely no public service remit”.

RTÉ should not be allowed to “have its cake and eat it”, Mr Purcell said.

Mr White was named as Mr Rabbitte’s successor four days ago. The Labour Party TD is a former RTÉ radio producer who worked for the station between 1984 and 1994.

“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,” Mr Purcell said.

At present, commercial radio stations only have very limited and indirect access to licence fee money through the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Sound and Vision funding scheme, but it does not provide support for live broadcasting, the mainstay of radio schedules.

The introduction of the new Household Broadcasting Charge, which is due to replace the television licence fee, gives “a unique opportunity to Minister White to decide how we define and fund public service broadcasting in the future”, Mr Purcell added.