Sometimes the only words available to us to describe a story are “ah here”, and this is one such instance. We all owe a debt to Cianan Brennan at the Examiner for bringing this to light:
Well, there you go pic.twitter.com/4nrZmw7gBx
— Cianan Brennan (@ciananbrennan) September 14, 2023
If you are not familiar with the backstory, RTE presently have a tender out for the services of a professional photographer. The winning bidder will be expected to produce sixteen high quality images from the set of Fair City every week. In return for that work – and presumably the mental stress of being subjected to Fair City live and in person – they will be paid €80,000 per year for three years, after which presumably they expect that any person who has spent three years on that set will be burned out.
This figure amounts to an annual expenditure, if you are wondering, of 500 television licences. Some village in Mayo, or Roscommon, will be paying for this, and nothing else, for the next three years if the contract goes ahead.
You might think, on one level, that this is a relatively minor story, but I think you’d be mistaken.
RTE’s sustained case for its own existence and your own forced subsidisation of that existence is that it is a “public service” broadcaster, and that the television licence supports vital investigative and community journalism, high quality news, and domestically produced entertainment. And yet here we have a prime example of how that is not the case: RTE would not need to expend vast sums on promo images for Fair City if the show did not require active promotion, which suggests that the public appetite for it is less than ravenous.
In terms of public service, the biggest contribution Fair City has made to the gaiety of the nation in recent years is the current comical (though probably unintentionally comical) storyline involving “Far Right Fergal” arriving on the scene to shock and horrify the regular denizens of Carraigstown. That €80k might be better spent on improving the product by hiring better writers or another talented actor, rather than on marketing the sub-par bilge currently on offer. But the choice sums up RTE, because it’s what they’ve been doing for years.
One of the primary reasons for declining market share for RTE has been the arrival in Ireland of affordable streaming services offering vastly superior products with better writing and higher production values. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and others offer people vastly more choice in their entertainment for a price substantially the same – or lower – than the TV licence. RTE’s response has essentially been to say “well those are not Irish, and there’s a need for Irish drama”.
Accepting this latter (but dubious) point, then it really must be asked what RTE is actually doing for Irish drama, aside from associating it with absolute mediocrity. And rather than investing in Irish dramas that might earn the national broadcaster revenue from syndicating those shows internationally, instead we get absurd marketing expenditures trying to present the sow’s ear as a silk purse.
The contrast with Scandinavia, for one, is astonishing: Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark have all invested heavily in domestic drama in their native languages in recent years, and the results have been astonishing: Internationally syndicated shows like Borgen, The Killing, the Bridge, and Bordertown have emerged from up north, winning large international audiences and global acclaim despite each being in their respective native languages of Scandinavia, which are not widely spoken.
Meanwhile, Ireland has the advantage of existing in the English-speaking world, and an international reputation for artistry. What has our drama sector, under the watchful eye of RTE and the ever-whining “arts community” produced?
Fair City. And maybe one or two short-lived dramas about Dublin gangsters.
This is not a national broadcaster that is fulfilling its remit, or delivering for the Irish people. Which is precisely why those same Irish people are turning to alternatives. It’s not even really about the money, in this instance: It’s about the insanity of wasting a cent promoting this – sorry now – utter crap.
But this is the culture at RTE, and it will never change. The tender for a photographer has gone out even after the recent scandal about waste at RTE precisely because people in RTE genuinely don’t, can’t, and will never see this kind of thing as wasteful. If this kind of thing is still happening even after all of the recent furore, why would you ever expect it to change?
Organisations have this kind of thing in their DNA. Fair City must go on, and must survive, and must be promoted because the alternative is a lot of people losing their jobs. Whether you watch it, or like it, is almost secondary. But they’ll make damn sure you keep paying for it.