The Government have today (Tuesday the 10th of December 2019) responded to RTÉ's revised strategy, announcing a Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting is to be established.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton T.D. said,
"Broadcasting – national and local, is an important channel for expression of culture and community, for supporting creative talent and for independent, objective reporting of current affairs for citizens.
"Massive transformation is challenging the existing model. Today, the main source of news for 52% of over 65 year olds is TV, with 18% being from radio. In sharp contrast, of 18-24 year olds, it is 18% who rely on TV, with 6% sourcing their news from radio and 71% from social media and other online sources."
"This gives rise to new challenges. Today, the Government agreed to establish a Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting to consider how best to deliver and fund public service broadcasting into the future."
A Commission on Irish Public Service Broadcasting is being established by the Department of the Taoiseach to bring forward proposals by September 2020 (to ensure input before Budget 2021) The Minister has today published the terms of reference (see notes to editor) for the Commission. The Commission will review the current approach and make recommendations to Government on setting a new strategic direction for public service broadcasting provided at national, regional and local level in light of international experience and future trends. Membership will be decided shortly.
In light of its financial difficulties, RTÉ submitted a revised strategy which has now been considered by Government, following an evaluation by NewEra. The Government have agreed to provide an additional €10m funding to broadcasting with approx €9m going to RTÉ to implement this new plan. This funding is in addition to the allocation of €10m additional funding made between 2018 and 2019.
The provision of this additional funding will be accompanied by new reporting requirements including a structured reporting template which will also see monthly meetings between RTÉ and the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment working with NewERA.
The funding will come from the Department of Social Protection vote, in respect of free TV Licences and is to be provided in the 2020 revised Estimates.
Minister Bruton said,
"RTÉ must make changes to reposition itself. However, it is also important that a careful assessment take place of what are the models and funding mechanisms that can best support the continuing important public service goals. This is Government meeting RTÉ halfway on the financial challenges they face."
The Government also today agreed that RTÉ should not proceed with the part sale of the site, as intended in their plan, until the work of the Commission is completed and considered by Government, given that its recommendations may impact on decisions regarding the size and requirements of RTÉ.
Notes to the Editor
Terms of reference for Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting
A well- functioning media, and in particular public service broadcasting, delivers four important public services to Irish society:
- To inform, educate and entertain the Irish public with regard to matters of Irish culture, identity, sport, language and other matters inherent to Ireland and the Irish people;
- To ensure that the public has access to high quality, impartial, independent journalism, reporting on matters of local, regional, national, European and international importance in a balanced way and which contributes to democratic discourse;
- To bring the nation and diaspora together at moments of great national importance;
- To ensure that creative Irish talent gets the opportunity to have their work reach audiences in Ireland and, where possible, further afield.
Since the foundation of the State, these aims have been, and continue to be, delivered by a wide number of media organisations with RTÉ and TG4, as the public service broadcasters, playing a central role. More recently, the Sound and Vision Scheme, which amounts of 7% of net TV licence revenue, has supported content with public service value by all broadcasters in conjunction with the independent production sector.
The independent Commission is to:
- Identify what the Irish experience has been in delivering the above aims through public service broadcasters and other media outlets at a local, regional and national level and the challenges created for these media by new global platforms and changing audience preferences in relation to how content is delivered;
- Consider the extent to which the current model of delivery is the appropriate one for the next 10 years;
- Review best practice in other comparable jurisdictions across the European Economic Area in terms of providing a future-proofed model for meeting the above four public services in light of changing audience expectations, in particular the preferences and behaviours of younger audiences.
Arising from that work, the Commission is tasked with:
- proposing how those public service aims should be delivered in Ireland over the next ten years;
- how this should contribute to supporting Ireland's cultural and creative sectors
- how this work can be funded in a way that is sustainable, gives security of funding, ensures independent editorial oversight and delivers value for money to the public;
- making recommendations on RTÉ's role, financing and structure within this framework
- how this is overseen and regulated, having regard to our EU obligations including the requirements of the revised AudioVisual Media Services Directive.
While RTÉ's commercial income dropped significantly during the recession, RTÉ were in a position to break even in 2013 and 2014 in the midst of the economic recession. Since then their commercial income has been largely stable:
- Commercial revenue has been reasonably stable with €150m raised in 2013 and in 2018 it was also €150m
- License fee revenue has incraesed from €179m in 2013 to €189m in 2018
In the same period their operating costs have grown by 11%.
T.V. licence Fee
In 2017 the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications Climate Action and Environment made a total of 10 recommendations in respect of the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting including that the existing charging regime be expanded to capture every household consuming media regardless of the technology used i.e. a non-device dependent, household-based, public service broadcasting charge.
Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting
In light of the recommendations of the Committee, a working group was set up on foot of a Government decision in July 2018. Comprising of senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the group specifically examined the options of collection of the TV Licence by the Revenue Commissioners, tendering for Licence Fee collection and replacement of the fee with a Broadcasting Charge or a variation.
The group reported to Government in Spring 2019 and recommended:
- 1.That the TV licence be put out to public tender as soon as the enabling legislation, the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2019, is enacted. The group noted that it would be necessary to offer a fixed term contract of 5 years in order to make it feasible for the successful tender to invest in database and collection improvements. In the UK, tendering for TV Licence collection brought the evasion rate down to 7% over a number of years.
- 2.That at the end of the contract period, the licence fee should be replaced by a device-independent charge to support public service content on a sustainable basis. The group identified a number of challenges in respect of this option which would require time to resolve.
These recommendations were accepted by Government and announced in August of this year.