Europe rejects Newstalk complaint about RTÉ

Dispute arose after public broadcaster’s refusal to run ad with ‘Move the Dial’ slogan

An image from Newstalk’s ‘Move the Dial’ campaign. The slogan, which it no longer uses, was introduced in 2014.

An image from Newstalk’s ‘Move the Dial’ campaign. The slogan, which it no longer uses, was introduced in 2014.

 

A Newstalk complaint to the European Commission alleging that RTÉ’s commercial activities were “not being carried out on market terms” has been dismissed.

The complaint was submitted in August 2014 in the wake of a row between Newstalk and RTÉ after the latter refused to run a television advertisement containing Newstalk’s slogan at the time, “move the dial”.

RTÉ rejected the ad on the basis of internal guidelines that stated it did not run advertisements for media sector rivals if they contained a “call-to-action” message.

Newstalk had begun using the line shortly after it poached presenter Pat Kenny from RTÉ. It eventually removed the slogan from the ad, but maintained that RTÉ’s decision had been “a disgrace”.

The Communicorp-owned radio station suggested that RTÉ’s refusal to broadcast its advertisements was only possible because of the guaranteed income it receives each year as a State-funded public broadcaster.

It complained to the European Commission that there was “no proper oversight of RTÉ’s accounting, governance and commercial strategy” and that “a gap in the regulatory framework has allowed RTÉ to refuse advertisements of its indirect competitors on arbitrary grounds and to undercut prices offered for similar radio advertising products”.

The Commission ruled that it was satisfied that independent reports, such as those by consultants Oliver & Ohlbaum and Indecon, had found no evidence of RTÉ holding down advertising prices artificially.

It also said there was “sufficient oversight” of RTÉ’s commercial activities and “no evidence” that the Government’s annual reviews of its public funding had been lacking.

“This is an important decision by the European Commission and we welcome its clarity,” said RTÉ commercial director Willie O’Reilly.