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Friday 23 February 2018

'Real concern' for RTE funding over 'broken' TV licensing system

Shane Cassells
Shane Cassells

Fears have been raised for the future funding of RTE as the Department of Communications' most senior civil servant said the TV licence system is "broken" and commercial revenues are plummeting.

The perilous financial situation at the State broadcaster was raised as officials from the department were quizzed by the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Fianna Fail TD Shane Cassells hit out at people who "bash" RTE and said the broadcaster should be valued, particularly its journalism, during an era of "fake news".

But he said he feared for the station, citing licence fee evasion, staff cuts and the sale of land, which he pointed out could only be done once to raise cash. He asked Department of Communications secretary general Mark Griffin if he shared these fears.

"We in the department have a real concern about the future funding of the company," said Mr Griffin.

Evasion

"I would say the TV licence model is broken. I'm not sure whether it can be fixed."

He noted a reduction in licence fee income and an €85m drop in commercial revenues since 2008.

Licence fee evasion was at 14.6pc, a loss of around €40m a year, Mr Griffin said.

Mr Cassells said people were watching online streaming service Netflix when they came home in the evening and advertisers were "copping on" to this and spending less on traditional media.

He asked if the commercial side of RTE was "banjaxed".

"How are we going to fix this?" he asked.

Mr Griffin said previously abandoned plans for a broadcasting charge that would cover people who watch TV services on laptops and tablets may need to be reconsidered.

He also said there was the possibility transmission fees could be paid by satellite companies for broadcasting RTE, though he conceded the likes of Sky had been resisting such proposals.

Mr Griffin said the department was awaiting the report from the Oireachtas Communications Committee, which had been considering how to fund public service broadcasting.

Mr Cassells said he hoped a solution could be found because "otherwise we're going to have a dead product".

He said he didn't want a situation similar to America, where commercially-owned channels dictated editorial policy.

"I don't want to live in a world where I'm looking at the Irish version of Fox News to get my information," he said.

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