RTÉ presiding over ‘complete eradication’ of Irish language programming

Rónán Ó Domhnaill’s investigation finds less than 1 % of shows aired on RTÉ were in Irish

Commissioner’s report  found the amount of Irish language programming on RTÉ is ‘seriously deficient’ and is in breach of the Broadcasting Act.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Commissioner’s report found the amount of Irish language programming on RTÉ is ‘seriously deficient’ and is in breach of the Broadcasting Act. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

RTÉ bosses are presiding over the “complete eradication” of Irish language television programming on its flagship stations, an Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill has warned.

Mr Ó Domhnaill was speaking following the publication of the annual report of the Language Commissioner for 2018 which found the amount of Irish language programming on RTÉ is “seriously deficient” and is in breach of the Broadcasting Act.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said the investigation into RTÉ’s programming output, which was triggered following a complaint by a member of the public, ranked as one of the most significant investigations undertaken “ in the history of the office”

Following the finding in the annual report that less than 1 per cent of shows aired on the national broadcaster were as Gaeilge, Mr Ó Domhnaill rejected the station’s defence that he was not taking TG4 into account.

“There are two separate pieces of legislation which were breached here: one relating to Irish language programming; and one relating to Irish language news and current affairs - current affairs is not being catered for at all,” he said.

“The defence regarding TG4 isn’t a valid defence whatsoever. It is a separate price of legislation.”

TG4 is public service broadcaster which has been on the air since 1996. The station operated under RTÉ control until it became independent in April 2007. The station, now operated by Teilifís na Gaeilge, is funded by the Irish Government and income derived from commercial sales. While RTÉ is obligated under the Broadcasting Act 2009 to provide the station with a supply of 365 hours of Irish language programming annually, this does not relate to the television service provided by RTÉ itself.

Under the statutory requirements outlined in the Broadcasting Act 2009, RTÉ is obliged to provide a “comprehensive range” of Irish language programming. But, of the 18,657 hours of television programmes broadcast by RTÉ in 2017, just 123 hours – or just under 1 per cent – were Irish language programmes.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said out of €337 million spent on RTÉ television programming in 2017, just over €1 million was spent on Irish language broadcasts.

“Even the most benign language commissioner in the world couldn’t accept that would equate to a comprehensive range of programmes in the Irish language,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“The duty and the onus is on RTÉ now to make sure they adhere to the legislation and the provision in it.”

Mr Ó Domhnaill said, “What we are looking at essentially is almost the compete eradication of Irish language programming from RTÉ television. It is completely against the legislation, what RTÉ need to do is come forward with a plan.”

Mr Ó Domhnaill said it was obvious that a comprehensive range of programming was not being provided in Irish. He said the investigation found that RTÉ was “at odds with the will of the Houses of the Oireachtas” and “is in breach of the Broadcasting Act”.

Mr Ó Domhnaill recommended that the broadcaster provides his office with an implementation plan within six months outlining how it will meet its requirements as prescribed in the Broadcasting Act 2009.

RTÉ respond

RTÉ issued a statement on Thursday saying it “notes” the findings of Mr Ó Domhnaill’s report and added it will respond to An Coimisinéir Teanga “over the coming months”.

The national broadcaster said: “While the report finds RTÉ to be in breach of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act 2009 regarding the provision of Irish language programming on its linear television channels, it also finds that RTÉ is fulfilling its obligations regarding television news programmes and its radio output.”

“Furthermore, innovative developments made by RTÉ to considerably increase Irish language material available online, on social media, in digital radio and in podcasting are not within the scope of this report.”

The statement also pointed to submissions made to the Coimisinéir Teanga’s report in which the broadcaster cited funding and budgetary constraints (a reduction of more than €100 million in the organisation’s annual funding since 2008) as well as increased expenditure on the Irish language (from €21.262 million in 2014 to €24.455 million in 2017).

It also cited the appointment of a group head for the Irish language in 2014. “RTÉ last week appointed Niamh Ní Churnáin as its second Group Head of Irish Language,” it added.