A chara, – Children’s programming is central to the promise of public service broadcasting, a commercial-free space for entertaining content that provides common cultural touchstones for children irrespective of economic or other background.
It is also, as Mary Fitzgerald notes (November 25th), frequently treated as an after-thought, easily trimmed when budgets need cutting.
The economic challenges faced by our national broadcaster are significant. Its share of the licence fee has eroded as increasing slices are allocated to TG4 and for allocation by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, with commercial and foreign broadcasters showing increasing interest in this revenue source. Compliance rates with the licence, already low, were difficult to sustain during the economic downturn. Its advertising revenue collapsed as one of the early signs of economic crisis, and have since been challenged by “opt-out” advertising by British channels, which can afford to offer bargain-basement rates, given the insignificant marginal cost of content delivery to Irish audiences.
Increasingly, too, we have seen commercial operators sharpening the knives. Long critics of RTÉ’s access to public support, they have in recent times turned to arguing that provision of news content – part of the minimal requirements in return for their monopolies on the public airwaves – is a “public service”, the cost of which should be borne by the public. Shamefully, we have seen the Government pander to this position, indicating a willingness to seek to overturn European protections against such private raiding of public resources.
A vibrant, inclusive, and broad-based public service broadcaster is a necessary bulwark against a commodified media marketplace, where access to quality cultural content is dependent on personal resources. We have most recently seen in the United States the problems for the polity when shared public spaces are replaced by silos and enclaves.
RTÉ has flaws, many accentuated by the financial stresses it finds itself under, but it deserves, and needs, support if we are to continue to have shared spaces for engagement with culture and civic debate. – Is mise,
Dr ANDREW Ó BAOILL,
School of Humanities,