Public service broadcasting - RTÉ might change but it must survive

Public service broadcasting - RTÉ might change but it must survive

After a weekend when Dublin’s footballers, men and women, underlined in a most impressive but daunting way what happens when resources come together in an unprecedented way, it is important to be aware of developments that encourage unbalanced development and a concentration of services or platforms that diminishes one region at the expense of another.

RTÉ’s ongoing financial difficulties may feed that draining equation. It has been suggested that RTÉ’s studio in Cork might be sold off. Property experts say the building could fetch €1.5m — just enough to pay Ryan Tubridy for three years or RTÉ’s top three earners for just one year.

The proposal, even if it was just about money, is unacceptable. Regional studios are conduits for regional voices and interests, even if they have been marginalised by practice and under performance.

At a moment when our culture, our towns and cities seem ever more homogenised clones of the American/Anglo world these studios have new importance. They should, even in this digital age, be expanded rather than threatened.

How that might be done is a challenge worth embracing — as it must be if we place any real value on cultural independence and heritage.

The same argument applies to Lyric, which faces an uncertain future. The station has 1.7% of the audience and receives €6m a year. This figure is unchanged since 2013 and one that would not pay RTÉ’s top 10 for two years.

This is, at best, a bargain-basement investment in life-enriching public services that reach all corners of this republic. That its future is even in question seems an unwelcome victory for the soul destroying blandness it exists to counteract. RTÉ is also responsible for services that hardly ever dip a toe, physically at least, outside the Pale.

The national orchestras are wards of RTÉ, a legacy from another time. These are invaluable but expensive institutions that need to perform outside of the capital far more often to justify their position.

Of all the problems facing’s director-general Dee Forbes, this may be one of the easier ones to resolve but only if the Government, and business too, recognises the supportive role they must play.

It’s time too that RTÉ’s viewers and listeners, especially the 14% who do not buy a licence, recognised the annual fee is more a token than a realistic contribution to the services a national broadcaster must provide.

If some Montrose salaries are excessive — they are — then an annual fee of €160 is out of kilter too. That government after government has dodged this bullet speaks volumes, as does the fact that our licence fee collection costs are well above the EU norm. It may be time for our national broadcaster to become something completely different but it cannot be allowed to fade into irrelevance.

It has, like every organisation, weaknesses, but in this post-truth age its news mandate becomes more important by the day.

Why, after all, do the world’s despots focus on undermining trusted news sources?

As Dublin’s footballers showed, achievement requires investment. If we want a robust public service broadcaster, then we must pay for it.

Any doubts about the scale of that imperative can be set aside by considering the alternatives.

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