A deepening crisis at RTÉ
Sir, – In her statement outlining plans for financial restructuring (“RTÉ plans 200 job losses and pay cut for top earners”, News, November 7th), RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes says that, “We will not be able to reinvent public media . . . without immediate reform of the TV licence system.”
But nowhere in the plans is there any indication of how RTÉ might set about that long-overdue reinvention of public media policy and structures.
This is not to criticise Ms Forbes or any of my former colleagues in RTÉ, where I worked for 25 years as a TV producer and commissioning executive and for five years as head of broadcast compliance.
RTÉ is not responsible for the reinvention of public media. Dáil Éireann (and not only the government of the day) has that responsibility, critical for political democracy and a society in which all voices can be heard.
As the plans announced by Ms Forbes make very clear, RTÉ is only responsible for its own survival and for the delivery of its (arguably outdated) remit, the definition of that remit again being a question of public policy.
It is time for the Dáil Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to commission a report with policy options on public media from a body such as the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), independent of media organisations and their regulators. The initiative should continue through any general election and possible change of government or of committee membership.
If this is not done urgently and with a methodical and disinterested commitment to sustainable public media, we will remain trapped in a repetitive scenario in which one organisation’s financial survival is the sole focus of an impoverished discussion. When RTÉ finally collapses under the weight of its own and others’ expectations, it will be too late. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – According to Dee Forbes, the number of viewers watching the Rugby World Cup on the RTÉ Player exceeded those watching on RTÉ television. It is surprising, therefore, that RTÉ seems unable to take full advantage of a potentially lucrative revenue stream by delivering advertisements during programme breaks on the RTÉ Player. I watched several rugby matches on the RTÉ Player and seldom saw an ad. The only noticeable difference since Ms Forbes took over is that the message “Commercial Break” has been replaced by “Programme Resumes Shortly”.
Channel 4 don’t seem to have any licensing or technical difficulties selling advertising space and delivering (locally targeted) advertisements to my computer.
It would seem I’m not alone in my bemusement. “The Index” column in your Saturday Magazine recently (October 26th) included the RTÉ Player Soundscape on its list of What’s Hot and commented on the “strangely soothing music during ad breaks”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – RTÉ has been an overstuffed goose for many years.
However, the one area that should not be touched is the news and current affairs departments, which have consistently broadcast to the highest level.
In a world with Fox News and fake news, and with every social media tweeter claiming they have the “truth”, we will need quality journalism more than ever. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A solution to RTÉ’s revenue leakage from unlicensed online viewing would be to layer a subscription model on the online/RTÉ Player content. This subscription could be free to licence payers on entering their unique licence number in the subscription system. Other viewers would need to pay to view and this in itself could incentivise increased compliance in licence payments and offer additional revenue opportunities from subscribers outside the jurisdiction. If the content is good enough, people will pay. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Financing public broadcasting through a licence fee levied on all users of TV or equivalent media irrespective of RTÉ viewership is unfair, anti-competitive and lacks transparency. A better way to pay for this is to have a subscription charge and have the Government provide a budget for subventing public-service broadcasting. It would have to define what is meant by public-service broadcasting and invite tenders to provide this.
The subscription charge would mean that only those who watch the service pay for it. This is not the case with the licence. – Yours, etc,