RTÉ to go from being independent authority to company

RTÉ will be established as a company under broadcasting legislation to be published later this year.

A change of status from independent authority to a company was announced by Communications Minister Noel Dempsey in the Dáil yesterday.

It came as the Government announced public relations executive Mary Finan will become chairperson of the RTÉ authority.

She replaces the PR executive and sport agent Fintan Drury, who resigned because of a perceived conflict of interest over TV rights to the Ryder Cup.

Establishing RTÉ as a company for the purposes of the Companies Act was first mooted in 2002.

However, it is believed the broadcaster has reserved its position on such a change until it sees the legislation. Some concern has been expressed within RTÉ about increased Government influence over its operations if the minister were to become the principal shareholder.

The Bill also proposes to allow a fast-track right of reply to people whose reputation had been damaged by a radio or TV programme.

The right-of-reply mechanism may have been motivated by the row that erupted between the broadcaster and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell following the transmission of the Prime Time investigation into the proposed Thornton Hall prison.

Mr Dempsey told the Dáil yesterday that the new right-of-reply mechanism would allow “persons whose reputation and good name have been damaged by an assertion of incorrect facts in a television or radio programme to gain redress.”

It is understood RTÉ may resist such a change on the basis existing legislation provides sufficient safeguards.

Mr Dempsey also announced he wishes to establish a single content regulator for all broadcasters.

The details were disclosed in response to a question by Tommy Broughan. The Labour spokesman asked for the Bill to be published early to allow adequate debate and pointed out that this had not been done for the Sea Fisheries Bill.

Mr Dempsey also said Ms Finan would bring a wealth of experience to the job.

“She is a very successful business person and is involved in many worthy organisations on a voluntary basis. I would like to wish her well in her new role.”

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