TV licence fee ‘should be doubled’, says RTÉ director general

Dee Forbes says fee is ‘incredible value for money’

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes

 

RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes would like to see the licence fee doubled.

Ireland has one of the highest licence fee evasion rates in Europe and she is also calling for a reform of the way in which it is collected in Ireland.

“The licence fee is 40 cent a day. That’s what it costs the Irish viewer. I think that’s incredible value for money. Quite honestly I think it should be double that,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

“Look at the Scandinavian markets where the licence fee is double that and you see what they’re getting for that. The more money we have to play with content the more we can do.

“The case we’re in now is critical. We’re fighting for survival as an organisation. What I have to do, along with the team here, is ensure that we do survive.

We have to make choices.”

She said she will be announcing some changes to the structure in RTÉ which will see the consolidation of some departments into one called RTÉ One.

Future of RTÉ

“Consumers not watching channels, they’re watching content. We want to get to a place we’re focused on content and how we distribute that content.

“We will consolidate from a number of individual divisions to a more centralised operation that will bring with it some savings. We have duplication, we have to eliminate that. As we look to the future RTÉ has to be a smaller and more nimble organisation, we do need to make these cuts they are necessary for the future of the organisation.

“I am thrilled with the quality of production in RTÉ. We have to make sure that concentrating on producing the best content. Have to focus money on the airwaves, get rid of duplication.”

Ms Forbes said that the exact number of job losses is not known yet, but it likely to be between 200 and 300, 10 per cent of the station’s staff.

“We are setting about a reorganisation, we will be a different organisation.

“The big pillars - three will be condensed - radio, TV and digital will be condensed and will become Content, Channels, Audience and Marketing. They will be the new areas. News and current affairs will remain the same.

“We need to look across the service to see where we can make savings that will ultimately allow us to keep services on air and on screen.

“We will work collectively with the various groups and the teams to see how savings can be made. We have to give ourselves time. This is a big organisational restructure.”

The Drector General pointed out that since 2008 RTE has lost €100million in revenue, which is a predicament for the organisation.

The land sale which was also announced today, “will enable us to use that money to inject some much needed cash in key areas.

“Through the years where spending was curtailed technology took a back seat, an organisation like this lives and breaths on technology. More and more viewing is happening online, we have an RTÉ Player that is good, but not as good as it should be, Fair City is not available in HD, which is industry standard.

Working tirelessly

“We want news content in HD, it will allow us to catch up in places we haven’t been able to do.

“The commercial landscape has become very challenging. We have two revenue streams - income from licence fee and from advertising. But commercial revenues have seen very difficult days.”

She said the advent of Brexit was taking away money from the Irish marketplace and that an organisation RTÉ probably lost €10million.

“The industry is going through huge change and we have to be able to change with it.

“We have been working tirelessly with the Government about the licence fee. At one stage a media charge was mooted, that didn’t happen. Now we really feel that the best option for us is reform of licence fee collection system.

“Look around Europe - licence fee collection systems have changed. Look at Italy where evasion was high, they linked licence fee collection to your electricity bill and all of a sudden things really improved.

“There is an expectation that a tender will happen around the collection of the licence fee later this year. What really needs to happen is reform.

“A choice was made many years ago to fund and value public service broadcasting, the question now does this generation value it. I certainly value it, everyone working in RTE values it and I think the public values it.

“I think Government do value it. It is an essential part of any democracy.

Budgets suffering

“We are national broadcaster and strive to provide the best in Irish content and then have to buy in content from around the world to supplement that. Given the financial situation of the last few years, budgets have suffered.

“A couple of years ago we were spending €80m on independent production sector, that is now reduced to €40m.

“What we have to ensure is that when looking at budgets going forward that content is protected and that content is the number one place we focus as an organisation that we are giving value for money.

“We have to make very hard choices. That’s what this is about.

“The crucial thing for us as an organisation is that we continue to fight the fight. That we continue to work with government to ensure we are getting that sort of money, that we are bringing the best to the Irish people.

“As an organisation, RTÉ has operated on an individual media basis for years. We have a TV division, a radio division, a news and current affairs division and a digital division.

Backbone

“RTÉ is the backbone of the creative sector, we have an obligation to spend money with them. The money that would have been spent in house is now being spent out of house. It wasn’t our finest hour in terms of communication, we’ve learned from that.

“We will launch a scheme in a few months and will be asking for applications.

What we have to do is look across the entire organisation, have to look at every area. about how we do things, are there more efficient ways of doing things.

“It’s not going to be an easy process, change is difficult, the reason we’re doing this is to ensure that there is an RTÉ for the future. I believe RTÉ plays a vital role in Irish society and I want that role to continue, want to ensure that we as an organisation makes that happen.

“It is a case of adapt or die. That is where we’re at and I hope everybody would understand that and work with me and the team because the prize at the end of it is a sustainable RTÉ for generations to come.

“The money that we will get from the sale is only going to allow us invest in a couple of areas, that is really around technology and some building refresh. It would be reckless of us to use that money to shore up the deficit. That’s not what this is about.

“This is simply an enabler to invest in much needed technology to help us play catch up with the rest of the industry.”

Fake news

Ms Forbes pointed out that the €75million price tag for the land at Montrose is a gross figure. “We certainly won’t be getting all of that whenever it happens. There is a lot of work to do on the site to get it ready for sale.

“Public service broadcasting for me has never been so crucial. We’re living in a world where fake news is dominating, we’re living in a world where we are sandwiched between two nations going through huge change.

“For Ireland right now the voice, and the independent voice of public media is vital, that’s what we’re striving to preserve here. Never before has it been so vital that this is maintained, it’s a vital component of a modern functioning democracy and that’s why we have to preserve it and fight for it.”

On the five year strategy for RTÉ, she said: “We are now evaluating everything. Focusing on content - are we making the right content? Are we fulfilling our remit, how are we fulfilling it?

“In that context we will then decide what services we need to have for the future. Right now have 25 services. Our remit is very wide. We have to very critically evaluate if that is possible for the future.”