The Irish Times view on funding RTÉ: where is the plan?

The current funding model has not been sustainable for a long time

There is one positive to emerge from the omnishambles at RTÉ and it is that the issue of how the national broadcaster is funded may finally be addressed.

The dual funding model, under which RTÉ receives money from the Government via the licence fee and raises the balance of its needs from commercial sources including advertising, has not been sustainable for a long time.

RTÉ's disastrous foray into musical theatre, via Toy Show the Musical, is not unrelated to the pressure the organisation was under to find alternative sources of revenue.

The days of the licence fee are clearly numbered. There was already something of a buyers’ strike in this regard last year following the adverse publicity about the failed musical and payments to top presenters at RTÉ. Evasion rates for TV licences have always been high here relative to other European countries, at around 13 per cent. They had risen to almost one in five by the end of the last year.


The governance flaws at RTÉ highlighted since the start of the year by several external reports will not help. Neither will revelations about the financial package paid to the outgoing chief financial officer.

Some 13,000 people were prosecuted for not paying their licence last year but there is a limit to how far the Government can go down this road without risking a backlash from the electorate.

There is general acceptance across the political spectrum that a new mechanism for funding public service media is needed but little agreement as to the form it should take.

Sinn Féin jumped the gun this week with a Dáil motion calling for the immediate abolition of the licence along with an amnesty for those who have not paid. It was easily defeated by the Government and followed by the predictable excoriation of Sinn Féin for fiscal profligacy.

But it is a wake up call for the Government. Rather than advancing reasons for why alternatives such as a levy on broadband bills will not work, it needs to come forward with its own plan.