RTÉ rivals pitch in over public service broadcasting study
TELEPRINTER: The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has begun its five-year funding review of public service broadcasting.
The all-encompassing review is already a magnet for objections from RTÉ’s commercial rivals.
Everything is up for discussion, ranging from what the private media sector regards as “illegal State aid” to topics such as the Late Late Show’s famous “one for everybody in the audience” giveaways.
The five-year review, expected to be complete by the end of March 2013, is required under a provision in the Broadcasting Act.
The BAI will send the report, alongside its recommendations on the level of public funding, to the Minister for Communications next year. It will then be presented to the Oireachtas.
“It has a much broader scope than the yearly review of public funding,” says Aoife Clabby, who is working on the project for the BAI.
The review will take into account a market analysis of the broader audio-visual communications sector in Ireland, trends in advertising and subscriptions, events in other jurisdictions and European Commission guidance on the application of State-aid rules to public service broadcasting.
A submission to the review made by the National Newspapers of Ireland group opposes RTÉ’s online activities, which were operated at a loss of €3.4 million in 2011, and with which its members – including irishtimes.com– compete.
The NNI claims RTÉ fuses its public service and commercial activities in a way that is not consistent with EU rules. “This is exemplified by the handing out of ‘freebies’ on television shows.”
A 2009 European Commission statement on State-aid rules in broadcasting notes that although it does not define the public service remit of member states, such a remit would “be in manifest error” if it included activities such as advertising, e-commerce, teleshopping, premium-rate numbers in prizes, sponsorship and merchandising.
In a letter to The Irish Times this week, TV3 chief executive David McRedmond said deficits built up at RTÉ in recent years were “surely involving illegal State aid”.
What the European Commission is “most concerned” with, according to Clabby, is that the activities of public service broadcasters do not distort the market.
The BAI’s review will also examine developments at other dual-funded broadcasters in Europe and include audience research, soliciting views about the public service purpose of both RTÉ and TG4.
RTÉ and TG4 are each submitting a costed five-year strategy plan as part of the process.
This will assess the impact any changes in public funding would have on their output. “That’s a really cornerstone piece of the review,” says Clabby.
Director general of RTÉ Noel Curran (left) said, in September, that the broadcaster would publish its five-year strategy by the end of the year and that this will map out its “view of what the future should be”.
*This article was amended on November 15th, 2012 for reasons of clarity