RTÉ wants more taxpayer funding as it racks up €65 million loss

Representatives of the state broadcaster have told an Oireachtas Committee that unless funding methods are reformed there will be ‘no sustainable future for RTÉ’.

Speaking to an Oireachtas Joint Committee RTÉ Director of Strategy, Rory Coveney,  said that the national broadcaster is losing in excess of €65 million a year because of issues with the current licensing system,  including non-payment. 

He argued that, “substantial reform of the public funding system that underpins public service media and much beyond that in Ireland today” is needed. 

“The current licence fee system loses in excess of €65 million a year and is continuing to get worse as technology evolves.”

“There is not a sustainable future for RTÉ, and for many other of our key partners that rely on our capacity to invest, without a reformed public funding model.” he said.

He continued that, “RTÉ’s best response to the obvious threats of misinformation and disinformation is in ensuring we can continue to provide a comprehensive news and current affairs service that is fair and accurate and remains highly trusted by the public.”

RTÉ had pushed the Government to introduce a universal household charge to boost revenue and make up for the multi million euro shortfalls it reported, however a decision in favour of the proposal was not made. 

Senator Malcolm Byrne said it appeared that decisions in relation to the possibility of television licence reform had been “been kicked to touch again”. 

He questioned the implications for the future of the national broadcaster saying, “If we do not get a decision fairly quickly on the future funding model for RTÉ, what are the implications for it?” 

He asked whether RTÉ “is prepared to move towards a publisher broadcaster model.” 

Coveney stated that “the public funding system by common consent is not working. “

“Not only is it losing substantial amounts of money every year; it could be going into a lot of businesses here today in order to support content generation, journalism and all of the other things we want to talk about and do.”,he said. 

“The current system is unfair to those who pay the fee because a significant portion of people are not paying.” 

He said that the licence fee was being ‘fundamentally undermined’ because  “as it is currently constituted” streaming does not come under it. 

“People accessing our services exclusively through the RTÉ player are not obliged to pay the fee.” he said. 

“We believe some sort of household-based charge that is decoupled from a television is required to capture accurately the viewing that is going on.” he said, adding,  “The specifics around that and how it is collected and by whom are matters for Government. We cannot fix that.”

He continued that, “ The reality is that evasion in Ireland has always been relatively high by European standards.” 

He argued that this was a “dynamic that is now especially difficult is the growth of non-TV homes” where people are “consuming television over the Internet, in some cases on large-screen televisions at home, which can be our services and others’, and they are not obliged to pay the television licence as it is currently constructed.” 

He called for the closure of this “loophole”  referring to similar actions taken in the UK where the iPlayer was made “part of the liability for the collection of the television licence.” 

“Unless that core question is addressed, the problem will get worse.” he said, adding “Non-TV homes have risen from approximately 3% seven to eight years ago to 16.5% today, so it is growing at a clip of around 2 million per year in terms of the impact to us. It is not sustainable to deliver”. 

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