THE National Newspapers of Ireland has called on the Government to implement existing EU and Irish legislation to ensure RTÉ is not allowed to use state funding to finance the broadcaster’s commercial services.
The representative body of the Irish newspaper industry said barriers existed to the entry of newspapers to providing digital services due to unfair competition from the state broadcaster and the Government’s failure to address the issue.
The NNI said RTÉ is being allowed an unfair advantage over newspapers as it has been exceeding the proper limits of its public service remit through the cross-promotion of its services across various platforms, including TV, radio, print and the internet.
NNI co-ordinating director Frank Cullen said the problem has been exacerbated by a blurring of the broadcaster’s public service and commercial activities.
“RTÉ is not respecting market principles, including the need for it to keep an arm’s length relationship between its public services and commercial arms,” said Mr Cullen. In particular, he criticised how RTÉ is giving away free publicly funded content such as news through its website and using it to attract readers and generate further advertising. He pointed out that many pages on RTÉ’s online news service had links to other commercial websites.
The NNI has urged Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to use their powers under the Broadcasting Act 2009 to promote competition, transparency and full compliance with EU rules on state aid to broadcasters.
Mr Cullen said a key problem was the failure of legislation to define RTÉ’s “public service remit”.
Mr Cullen stressed the NNI was not engaging in “RTÉ bashing” but was expressing concern that the broadcaster’s services had been developed with the benefit of annual state funding of €200 million.
In a submission to Mr Ryan, the NNI, which represents 18 national newspapers and 35 regional titles, claims that all newspapers are facing specific challenges as a result of the development of digital media, especially online publishing.
“They face huge difficulties in asking readers to pay for content where a state-funded competitor is able to provide free online and mobile content,” it said.
However, RTÉ last night said calls by the NNI for the Government to restrict its online services were “unreasonable, regressive and based on a fundamentally flawed view of a modern media operation”.
It said it implied the lack of a successful online strategy for newspapers might in some way be RTÉ’s fault “rather than that such failure might more likely be caused by factors like, for example, poor board/management decision-making and/or the lack of commitment to the development of online activities”.
RTÉ said the development of rte.ie had been financed entirely using commercial funding sources without recourse to public subvention of any kind.
It said it does not fund the online operation from the licence fee but from other RTÉ commercial activities and revenue sources.
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