A group of leading Irish screen directors, including Lenny Abrahamson, Dearbhla Walsh, Neil Jordan and Lisa Mulcahy, have called on the Government to "fix the dysfunction of funding to RTÉ" and support Irish television production so that it can take part in a global boom for the industry.
"As creatives, we are concerned that if the current RTÉ budget levels continue, Ireland will lose its independent production sector entirely," said the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland.
It said the Department of Communications had “a responsibility” to recognise both the cultural and economic opportunities that would spring from improved funding for the public service broadcaster at a time of “massive” spending by global streaming services.
“For many years now, RTÉ has been under-investing in drama and high-end documentary production, which is approximately 50 per cent less than it was 10 years ago on an already underfunded,” it said in a statement, published ahead of today’s release of RTÉ’s annual report for 2018.
The guild's board also includes Jim Sheridan, chairman Maurice Sweeney, Paddy Breathnach, Ciaran Donnelly, Ruth Meehan, Frank Berry, Stephen Bradley, Darragh O'Connell and Steve Woods.
They called on the Government to implement last year’s Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) recommendation for RTÉ’s funding to be increased by €30 million in order to sustain its services.
Reform of the television licence fee was “urgently needed to bring Irish broadcasting into the present day”, they said.
‘Not a luxury’
The guild is also urging the creation of a separate drama fund to produce Irish-made television series and said ministerial responsibilities for communications and culture should be united in one department.
“Television is a medium that improves the nation, triggers imagination, raises curiosity, encourages education and gathers millions around common interests,” Mr Sweeney said. “Television is a necessity, not a luxury – television is where we as a nation grow.”
Lower budgets and fewer commissioned projects in the Irish industry are already having a “severe impact” on jobs, creativity and innovation, the statement added.
“An anomaly exists that, while all European broadcasters have funds to invest in both film in addition to drama, RTÉ has no budget to invest in film and this is adversely impacting industry growth and any hope for a vibrant future.”
Irish directors such as Ms Walsh and Ms Mulcahy are currently working on prominent drama series in the US and British industries. But the support of home broadcasters is often a vital first career step for television directors.
The guild also noted that local broadcasting content may become "more in demand than ever", as streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon will soon be obliged under an EU directive to dedicate at least 30 per cent of their catalogues to European-made programmes.
The Irish industry believes the Government is not doing enough to enable production companies here to participate in the “peak TV” industry, driven by the subscription video-on-demand companies and audience demand for bigger and bolder projects.