White can be expected to be supportive of RTÉ

New Minister was a radio current affairs producer with the public service broadcaster between 1984 and 1994

Alex White: with his appointment, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources remains in Labour hands

Alex White: with his appointment, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources remains in Labour hands

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

With the appointment of Alex White as its new Minister, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources remains in Labour hands.

Like his predecessor Pat Rabbitte, White can be expected to be broadly supportive of RTÉ, and indeed he was a radio current affairs producer with the public service broadcaster between 1984 and 1994.

He was a founder member of a campaign group Let in the Light, which was set up by the National Union of Journalists among others to fight for the introduction of freedom of information legislation and the repeal of section 31 of the Broadcasting Act (which banned Sinn Féin from the airwaves).

He later lectured on employment law and media studies, and the latter subject will now take up space in his ministerial in-tray. While RTÉ is now back in the black, challenges remain in a more crowded broadcasting industry.

One of Rabbitte’s last acts was the launch of a crackdown on licence fee evasion, while the Household Broadcasting Charge, the planned licence fee replacement, is due to be introduced next year.

Once the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill passes, responsibility for media mergers will transfer from the Department of Enterprise to the Department of Communications, meaning White will ultimately be the man who decides whether media mergers are in the public interest.

His portfolio is a broad one. Rabbitte regularly went straight from giving speeches at advertising industry shindigs to talking about wind farms and tidal power at renewable energy conferences, and White will be obliged to do the same.

Under his tenure we may well discover if the new terms for oil and gas exploration and production licences can hope to increase the State’s income from off-shore resources, assuming, of course, such resources are found.

He is now also Minister for Pylons, a topic that can be relied upon to stay contentious.