Local radio saved from closure by State funding, committee hears

Oireachtas hearing told of impact of pandemic on independent broadcasters

The Oireachtas media committee heard the average operating cost of local radio stations is between €1.5 million and €2 million annually.

The Oireachtas media committee heard the average operating cost of local radio stations is between €1.5 million and €2 million annually.

 

Almost all members of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) came “critically close” to shutting down radio stations in the wake of the pandemic, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

John Purcell, chair of IBI, said most of its 34 members were about a week away from closing and were saved only by Government funding.

Mr Purcell told the Oireachtas media committee that the average operating cost of local radio stations is between €1.5 million and €2 million annually. Revenue from local ads is down between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, he said.

Mr Purcell said revenue has stopped because of the current “gloomier” Covid outlook, with many radio broadcasters looking ahead to next year with “great trepidation”.

He said the Government funding allowed radio stations to perform a “vital public service role.

“Without this, the damage caused to Irish society by the online conspiracy theorists, the peddlers of misinformation and the numerous bad actors who continue to be provided with a channel for their views by the social media and online platforms, would have been far worse.

“Frankly I shudder to imagine the consequences for local areas without the work of the dedicated men and women on stations all over the country had the misinformation gone unchallenged.”

He also said he wants to see a report drawn up by the Future of Media Commission published. The report was tasked with exploring public service media funding. “It was due in July and we’ve yet to see the light of day, our concern across is that this will drift to be just another report,” he added.

Declan Gibbons, chair of the Community Radio Forum of Ireland, said the delay in enacting the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is causing added problems for local radio.

“It provides robust structures, and it means that we can stand over what we do, and I think that’s still completely lacking in the online sector,” Mr Gibbons added. “There’s no sign of a level playing pitch at all. And the amount of revenue that’s heading online to an unregulated space is something that has to remain a concern for all media and for diversity.” – PA