RTÉ site is 'abuse' of public role


RTÉ's website amounts to an abuse of its role as a public service broadcaster and it should be “reined in”, the newspaper industry has claimed.

The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), of which The Irish Times is a member, told an Oireachtas committee today that RTÉ.ie was a commercial website at odds with its public service remit as outlined in the Broadcasting Act 2009.

NNI co-ordinating director Frank Cullen said: “To us that says it is a public service website. If it is a public service website, deliver the content by all means, but there should be no advertising. We have a grey area that urgently needs to be addressed.”

He urged politicians to look at models such as Norway or the UK where the state broadcasters are not allowed to advertise on their website in their own country though BBC Worldwide is allowed to take advertising.

He also pointed out that there are statutory limits to RTÉ’s television and radio advertising but none for its website.

RTÉ.ie was full of advertisements about “dating, motoring and property” which had no place where the broadcaster was showcasing material such as news which was funded from the licence fee, he suggested.

Mr Cullen also told members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications that the “one for everyone in the audience"” attitude on the Late Late Show blurred the line between pure commercial sponsorship and its public service remit.

Mr Cullen said advertising in newspapers was back to levels last seen in 1998 and the whole future in the industry was under threat from companies such as Google which were benefiting from newspaper content which was streaming free online.

In response to a suggestion by Independent Senator Joe O'Toole that newspapers had “missed the boat” in terms of online content, managing director of The Irish Times Ltd Liam Kavanagh pointed out that the newspaper has been investing in its website since 1994.

Mr Kavanagh said he was sceptical about RTÉ's assertion that its website was totally funded from commercial activities. The Irish Times had been investing in its website for many years and had not been able to make a profit from it, he said.

He believed RTÉ had an unfair advantage because it was using its programmes to plug its website.

Mr Kavanagh also said The Irish Times would be happy to take RTÉ video on its own website.

Committee chairman MJ Nolan said the issue was a “potentially serious matter”and he expected that RTÉ would be called before it to explain its position.

The committee was attended by RTÉ head of corporate communications Kevin Dawson who said afterwards that they were prepared to give a “very different perspective” on digital media if invited to do so by the committee.