RTÉ board should not tune out from digital expertise

Cantillon: Industry change must be key as Oireachtas committee fills vacancies

The Oireachtas media committee has taken a break from its investigations into RTÉ retirement parties to issue a call-out for applications from "suitably qualified members of the public" who fancy joining the board of the State-owned broadcaster – a gig that entails up to 10 half-day meetings a year.

The term will inevitably coincide with a crunch point for RTÉ as it wrestles with the fast-evolving media market. But although most industry-watchers agree the organisation is badly in need of digital transformation, there is no particular stress on the “D” word in the StateBoards.ie advertisement for the role.

Last November, a candidate with "evidence of experience in implementing a digital transformation programme, or experience in implementing new digital models in an organisation of similar size and complexity as RTÉ" was sought to fill a vacancy left by Frank Hannigan, whose term on the board had come to an end. The chosen replacement in March was Connor Murphy, co-founder of sales forecasting company Datahug.

This time around, candidates can be anybody who has demonstrated expertise and experience “at an appropriately senior level” in business and commercial affairs or legal and regulatory affairs. Knowledge of “the new digital audio-visual environment” and experience of “digital innovation and entrepreneurship” is merely “deemed desirable”.

Skill mix

Of course, the best boards are those with a diverse mix of skills and backgrounds and there are no fewer than four vacancies at RTÉ, with the terms of Fionnuala Sheehan, Margaret E Ward, Eoin McVey and Shane Naughton having come to an end in February.

As Oireachtas media committee chairwoman Niamh Smyth noted, the purpose of the RTÉ board, as with other State boards, is to "serve the interests of the taxpayer, pursue value for money, ensure transparency, and be accountable for the proper management of the organisation". You don't have to pretend to have watched The Late Late Toy Show to do that.

But in a week in which UK public service broadcaster Channel 4 announced plans to "accelerate its pivot to digital" with ambitious digital-revenue targets that still seem eye-wateringly out-of-reach for Montrose, it might be no harm to bolster the board's digital credentials nonetheless.