RTÉ lobbying was not a complete waste of time

Register shows unwinding previous budget measures was key focus of Dee Forbes

The RTÉ mast at  Donnybrook, Dublin. RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes had six meetings with public officials with the intention of “seeking unwinding of the emergency budget measures”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The RTÉ mast at Donnybrook, Dublin. RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes had six meetings with public officials with the intention of “seeking unwinding of the emergency budget measures”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

What better way to spend the day before Christmas Eve than having a bit of a chat about the future of public service broadcasting?

The latest batch of returns to the lobbying register shows Eamon Ryan TD, member of the Oireachtas communications committee and a former minister for communications, did just that, putting in a call to Rory Coveney, strategic adviser to RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes, “to gain an understanding of current media issues”. It’s hard to get your head round the popularity of Mrs Brown’s Boys, to be fair.

RTÉ filed a total of 11 returns ahead of the last deadline, which covers lobbying that took place from September 1st right up until December 31st.

Forbes, who took up her role in July, had six meetings with public officials with the intention of “seeking unwinding of the emergency budget measures”.

Those lobbied were Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the secretaries general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Communications.

The emergency measures in question are Budget 2014’s €5 million cut to the cap on what the Department of Social Protection gives RTÉ in respect of pensioners’ free television licences, plus an earlier decision to allocate €10 million from RTÉ’s licence fee coffers to TG4.

Measures within Budget 2017 suggest Forbes did not waste her time. The budget was a positive one for RTÉ to the tune of €6 million, as the Department of Social Protection cap was increased by €1 million, while some €5 million in direct public expenditure was reallocated to TG4.

Meanwhile, Sky Ireland appears on the latest returns twice, once in a meeting with Naughten to discuss the proposed Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, while chief executive JD Buckley also wrote to the Minister on the hot topic of retransmission fees, which Sky is very much against.

Retransmission fees are the fees that RTÉ is currently prohibited under the legislation from charging Sky and other platforms for the broadcasting of their channels.

In both Ireland and the UK broadcasters have been pushing for a change in the legislation that would permit these fees, thereby improving RTÉ’s negotiating hand and potentially boosting its coffers. It’s a topic for further discussion, perhaps, at the Oireachtas committee’s planned February “forum”, where the public service broadcasting chatter will be only mighty.