Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has agreed to debate the future of Irish broadcasting "in a suitable forum", following a call by the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) for a three-way meeting between the commercial radio sector, the Minister and RTÉ.
The IBI, which represents 34 independent radio stations, said RTÉ should not be allowed to "monopolise the future". Its chairman John Purcell described RTÉ as "a looming behemoth" that had a disproportionate impact on the radio market.
"In the Irish Times last Friday, [RTÉ director-general] Noel Curran is quoted as saying that RTÉ needs some security. My response is 'don't we all'," Mr Purcell told the IBI's annual conference in Dublin. "
The Minister said the extent of the financial challenge facing RTÉ “cannot be over-emphasised” given the collapse of its advertising revenues. “This points to the pronounced importance of licence fee funding for RTÉ, and of securing that national presence on the airwaves into the future.”
Mr Rabbitte’s comments indicate he supports Mr Curran’s call for RTÉ to receive a greater proportion of its funding from public sources. However, the Minister cautioned that the nature of the service provided by RTÉ was not “immutable”, and that “like everything else, cloth must be cut to measure”.
The case for a broadcasting charge – instead of a television licence fee – “is even more compelling” now than when it was proposed, but may require new legislation, the Minister said.
He objected to Mr Purcell’s characterisation of the Government’s attitude to IBI members as a “tough luck, you took the risk” message. But he conceded that IBI members aired “public service output of merit that has to be recognised and encouraged and preserved”. His remarks represented a softening on his address to the conference a year ago, when he said it was “worth keeping in mind at all times” that the commercial media sector was “just that – commercial”.