Financial insecurity is just one of the ongoing challenges for Ireland’s public broadcaster, RTÉ, which faces significant cuts and potential job losses in the coming years.  

In a press release published in November, RTÉ Director General, Dee Forbes, listed the key challenges facing the public broadcaster. The list included changes in audience behaviours – particularly among young people, who are disengaging with RTÉ’s content – competition from “global” streaming platforms, and a “broken license fee system”. 

RTE has a 14% license fee evasion rate, which is considered among the highest in Europe. With growing numbers of households not paying their license fee but still consuming RTÉ content, this has resulted in a significant loss of approximately 25 million per year.

Budget cuts

In the same press release, Forbes also outlined a series of measures to address these ongoing challenges, which include reducing costs by 60 million over the next three years and cutting staff numbers by approximately 200 in 2020 alone. 

Other plans include reducing the salaries of some of its top-paid presenters by 15%, as protested by RTÉ’s journalists, as well as closing the RTÉ Lyric FM studios in Limerick and moving production to Cork and Dublin. This was met with a public outcry and, more recently, provoked the government to intervene.

Government support

Last month, the government requested that RTÉ defer its decision to move Lyric FM from its offices in Limerick”, at least until a recently proposed Public Service Broadcasting Commission is established, which would “consider how to best deliver and fund public service broadcasting into the future.” The Commission is expected to issue its first report by September 2020. 

The proposed Commission was “cautiously welcomed” by the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI), a representative body of 34 independent radio stations. They explained that other independent radio stations are contracted to broadcasting public service content; therefore, the remit of the Commission needs to look beyond RTÉ and focus on the future of all broadcasters with a statutory public service remit.”

Read more: RTÉ Announces Plan To Address Key Issues, Fight For Its Future And For Public Service Media In Ireland

Communications Minister, Richard Bruton, announced that the government would also be providing the public broadcaster with €10 million per year for five years, which will be supplied to the Department of Social Protection to be distributed to RTÉin respect of free TV licences” for over 75s.  

RTÉ board member, Anne O’Leary, who was re-appointed in December, welcomed the Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting as well as the government’s offer for financial support. But she also stated that “it won’t recoup the losses from the manifestly inefficient TV licence system.”

Writing in the Irish Independent about the proposed changes for RTÉ, Dee Forbes emphasised the fundamental importance of independent public media in providing access to information and supporting democracy, while highlighting the risks of a diminished RTÉ: 

“Yes, we need to evolve to better meet the audiences needs of today. And we must also find new ways to grow our commercial income, reduce our costs and invest in new technology. We know we have much work to do. But others do too. Without funding reform we will not be able to service audiences the way we should. The broader industry will contract. These services and these programmes will not be replaced by the market, and audiences in Ireland will be under-served.”

Header Image: RTE HQ building and public clock. Credit: William Murphy/Creative Commons