RTÉ licence fee 'distorts market'

Mon, Feb 6, 2012, 00:00

Newspapers should receive a share of the proposed new media charge, the chairman of media group Thomas Crosbie Holdings, Alan Crosbie, has told a conference on media diversity.

Mr Crosbie, whose group publishes titles including the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post, said newspapers were overly dependent on "fickle" advertising and that the dual-funding of RTÉ through licence fee and advertising revenues "distorts the market for everyone".

Acknowledging the political difficulty attached to increasing the licence fee in order to distribute a greater share of its revenues beyond RTÉ, Mr Crosbie said he would "settle for zero VAT" on newspapers, as which exists in the UK.

Mr Crosbie also made a strongly worded attack on new media, suggesting there was "a threat to humanity from an unidentifiable tsunami of data" and that some "unverifiable" sources of information had "the capacity to destroy civil society". If newspapers collapsed, online media would "eventually be left with a blank screen, because they will have nothing left to steal from," he told the conference, which was organised by the MEP Nessa Childers.

Mr Crosbie said it was very important that newspapers, which he said were "still the agenda-setters", apologised for when they got it wrong. He cited newspaper coverage of letters sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to the closure of the Vatican embassy as an example, saying newspapers including ones owned by TCH had cited this as evidence of public opposition to the closure.

However, it was the case that people who were in favour of the closure had not taken the time to write letters in support, he noted.

"One of the problems newspapers have is that we have all been tarred with the same black brush that Murdoch has created. We are not trusted," he said.

John Lloyd, contributing editor to the Financial Times, described Mr Crosbie's speech as "the passion of desperation". Mr Crosbie said he had been campaigning for a share of licence fee revenues "for 20 years, though the good times and the bad times".

Also speaking at the conference, the chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Michael O'Keeffe, acknowledged that the Broadcasting Act 2009 on which the authority is basing its revisions to its media ownership and control policy was "somewhat out of date" as it did not take into account online media.

The Government is expected to publish a bill on the regulation of media mergers shortly.

Highlighting increased concentration in media ownership across Europe, media regulation expert Dr Alison Harcourt from Exeter University warned attendees that plurality concerns would have to be specified within media merger legislation in order for it to "remain salient".