Someone must broadcast the fact that RTÉ’s finances are perilous

Someone must broadcast the fact that RTÉ’s finances are perilous
Communications Minister Richard Bruton: Six months after his appointment, we still don’t know his stance on funding for RTÉ.

Some of the greatest nonsense ever spouted can be found on YouTube. No, I don’t have a scientific study to back this up, but I’ve enough domestic eavesdropping experience to realise the home truth of this.

“Where did you hear that?” is one of my oftest quoted lines as a parent, and my follow-up is that just because someone says something on YouTube does not make it true.

This conversation will follow my offspring presenting me with yet another “fact” that’s been spouted by some “subscribe to my channel” gobshite who looks and sounds like she/he wouldn’t know a concrete fact if it hit them around the head.

I know, I know, I’m showing my age.

But I also hope I‘m showing decades of journalistic experience and attempting to pass on an important life lesson about employing your critical faculties to decide whether what you see and hear online is true or complete balderdash.

In this vein, Media Literacy Ireland (MLI), which is part-funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), has just launched a campaign with tips on helping the public how to spot fake news. Newsbrands Ireland, which represents newspapers, including the Irish Examiner, is a member of MLI.

The Be Media Smart awareness campaign advises consumers to think about what purpose the news they are reading serves, and to check the source of that news, in the same way they would check the history of a car they’re thinking of buying, or the food they’re eating. Recognising disinformation is a focus for European Media Literacy week, which is this week.

Take, for example, the massacre in New Zealand last week, when a gunman with a semi-automatic weapon opened fire on Muslim worshippers at two mosques and murdered 50 people. Very shortly afterwards, videos, tweets, and

articles began stating — with no evidence — that this attack had been staged by the authorities.

We’re lucky in Ireland, that we have a number of responsible and respected media outlets, which we can access to get information that we can trust.

If it’s a breaking news story — and events are often reported now as they are happening — the Irish media will make clear that the overall picture is not yet clear.

My children are too young to be paying too much attention to current affairs — and so much of it is now so depressing, it’s better to keep it that way — but I do wonder where they will get their news when they are old enough to want to know exactly what’s going on in their country and around the world.

You don’t need to be a news junkie to know that the media is not financially stable at present, particularly not newspapers, which have struggled for a long time to be commercial (daily sales of newspapers continue to drop).

But another key source of reliable news, and indeed of entertainment, is our national broadcaster.

However, there is no greater national sport in Ireland than giving RTÉ a kicking. But if ever there was a case of “you’d miss it if it was gone”, then RTÉ is it.

As things stand, the station will have simply run out of cash by next year, but no-one appears to have noticed or to care. It’s as if the station management is shouting into a void in warning that disaster is imminent. A stream of reports into the future of the station has been commissioned, and a number are ongoing, but no-one is willing to make actual decisions based on recommendations.

Fine Gael, particularly Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, would appear to be philosophically against assisting the station. Denis Naughten, the previous communications minister, spent much of his time carefully not making any decision on the station’s future. After the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland recommended that RTÉ get an “immediate increase” of €30m, the Government gave it €8.6m in the last budget.

Naughten’s successor, Richard Bruton, was appointed almost six months ago, but we’re none the wiser on his stance, which is quite incredible, when you consider the perilous state of the station’s finances and the need for short-term funding. RTÉ presenters veer away from asking Bruton, or his colleagues, about the station’s future, out of politeness or some sense of impartiality.

But the time has come for that caution to be thrown to the wind, given RTÉ’s circumstances.

RTÉ’s top-10 leading presenters may well feel inhibited by the €3m paid collectively to them. There is no way this figure is defensible, given the financial straits of the broadcaster.

In yet another kick-to-touch, Bruton is said to be considering asking the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) to conduct a fresh review of financial efficiencies at RTÉ. Yet another report. Sigh.

RTÉ is dual-funded, through a proportion of television licence fee receipts and the commercial revenue it generates (which has also been dropping). Since 2008, RTÉ’s overall annual funding has fallen by more than €100m, or 23%.

But even on a matter as simple as the licence fee and An Post’s very poor collection record — a 15% evasion rate — the Government just chickens out of a decision. Where else would you see the Government forgoing €60m annually in tax?

The station needs tangible government support if it is to take the tough but necessary decisions to survive.

There is no way, unfortunately, that RTÉ can sustain 1,800 employees. Should it move out of its present location, in leafy Montrose, altogether?

Can it keep on funding Radio na Gaeltachta? Should it? How might Lyric FM be made more commercial? Any decisions the station might wish to make about cutting any services would have to be approved by the Department of Communications.

But RTÉ risks making any decisions or announcements at its peril.

Remember the controversy last year, when an external review found that RTÉ could no longer support two orchestras — the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and the National Concert Orchestra — at an annual cost of €17.2m. It suggested establishing the NSO as an independent body, or as part of the National Concert Hall and funded by the Government.

Then, last summer, the Cabinet agreed, in principle, that the NSO should come under the remit of the National Concert Hall. Like so much to do with RTÉ, no more has been heard of it.

The day of reckoning for RTÉ is fast-approaching, but no-one seems to be listening to the warnings.

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