A radical choice by RTÉ standards

New director-general faces major challenges as broadcasting landscape changes fundamentally

The project to sell off part of the Montrose campus to fund investment is under way. Photograph: Alan Betson

The project to sell off part of the Montrose campus to fund investment is under way. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Dee Forbes takes over as director general of RTÉ at a moment when her predecessor and his management team have successfully steered the broadcaster through some choppy waters to a point of relative stability.

The economic crash and the Mission to Prey debacle, which threatened, respectively, to undermine RTÉ’s financial viability and to undermine confidence in its ethical and editorial standards, have been tackled. The 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising this week saw a confident assertion of the values of public service broadcasting and quality programming.

Not a bad time, then, to take a breath and embark on the next stage of the journey.

Radical

When Bob Collins became DG in 1992, it was seen as long overdue that the job had finally gone to someone with editorial experience, rather than coming from an engineering or accounting background. Collins’s successors, Cathal Goan and Noel Curran, were cut from similar cloth and in many quarters there was an assumption that trend would continue.

The next time RTÉ has a falling-out with the government or a controversy erupts over a current affairs programme, there will be great interest in how adroitly the issue is handled.

Selection

Moya Doherty

The challenges RTÉ now faces are profound, and the strategic skills and knowledge of international trends in broadcasting which Forbes brings must have weighed strongly in her favour.

Hefty items will be sitting in her in-tray on arrival. The project to sell off part of the Montrose campus to fund investment is under way, but will require focus and strategic clarity if it is to achieve its objective of making RTÉ fit for purpose moving forward.

The proposal to replace the television licence fee with a public service broadcasting charge will need to be revisited, along with revised legislation to reflect the changed landscape in which public service content is produced and technology’s impact on audience consumption.

Forbes has acknowledged television is going through the most significant change in its history, moving towards web-based video on demand. There is a commercial challenge from new entrants such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as established competitors like Sky.

These changes require public service broadcasters to think strategically about what their mission is now and how best to fulfil it. That almost certainly means a process of ongoing and possibly painful change across television, radio and digital.

To some people’s surprise, the RTÉ board has decided Forbes is the best person to lead it.

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