Newstalk awaits Brussels update on complaint about RTÉ use of licence fees

Communicorp-owned radio station expects European Commission news in next month

Denis O’Brien: if European Commission was to side with him it could set a precedent in other EU member states. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Denis O’Brien: if European Commission was to side with him it could set a precedent in other EU member states. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Newstalk says it expects a “further update” from Brussels in the next month or so in relation to its complaint about RTÉ’s use of licence fee funds.

“The complaint is still ongoing and is being actively considered by the European Commission competition directorate,” says Newstalk chief executive Gerard Whelan.

The radio station, which is part of Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp Group, complained last year that RTÉ’s use of licence fee funds is in breach of European Union rules on State aid. RTÉ’s commercial activities are “not being carried out on market terms”, the station claims. Licence fee money is being used to “subsidise commercial activities, which is discriminating against us”, Whelan said at the time.

The complaint also outlines the backdrop to RTÉ’s decision not to run an advertisement for Newstalk (on the grounds that its text transgressed established guidelines for ads from rivals by including a call to action), while it also claims that the public service broadcaster is distorting the market by selling radio advertising below cost.

The commission’s stance on State aid for public service broadcasters is not exactly clear-cut, however, and if it was to side with O’Brien, the largest private owner of media in Ireland, it might set a precedent for similar tensions between public service and commercial broadcasters in other EU member states. It could, indeed, “move the dial”.