Sky criticised for poor investment

A senior RTÉ executive has criticised the lack of spending by Sky on television content in Ireland given the large revenues the Rupert Murdoch-owned media group takes from Irish customers.

RTÉ’s managing director of news and current affairs, Kevin Bakhurst, accused Sky of giving little in return for taking “hundreds of millions of euro” out of Ireland each year.

Addressing the annual media conference hosted by the Public Relations Institute of Ireland in Dublin yesterday, Mr Bakhurst said Sky’s revenue from the Irish TV market in 2011 was €157m more than RTÉ’s income. Sky’s revenue of €382m represented 43% of the entire market which was worth €879m, said Mr Bakhurst.

“Sky’s level of investment in Irish content is very low.”

Sky discontinued its dedicated news for Irish audiences, Sky News Ireland, in Nov 2006 after two-and-a-half years on air due to poor viewing figures. The station had broadcast a 30-minute news bulletin, which was presented by Gráinne Seoige twice daily.

Mr Bakhurst also defended RTÉ’s extensive coverage for the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of his successor, Pope Francis. The broadcaster had been criticised for basing a team of 16 journalists and other crew in Rome.

He revealed that the station had spent a total of €160,000 on such coverage, of which €60,000 was attributable to satellite and transmission costs.

The conference heard that the recent Papal coverage was still €100,000 less that the amount spent by RTÉ on Pope Benedict’s election in 2005.

Mr Bakhurst said RTÉ’s presence in Rome had resulted in an audience of almost 500,000 for the breaking news of Pope Francis’ election on the Six One news as well as generating huge traffic on its website.

The former BBC executive admitted RTÉ was lucky to have the “bedrock” of TV licence fee income which accounted for about 50% of the station’s annual revenue.

He also rejected any suggestion that RTÉ had mothballed investigative journalism in the wake of the controversies surrounding the Prime Time Investigates defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds and the bogus tweet aired during the presidential election debate.

Mr Bakhurst pointed out the station had worked hard over the past year to re-establish its investigative team which saw the relaunch of its major investigations last night with a Prime Time programme on clothes recycling charities.

He claimed RTÉ’s response to its mistakes of the past should give hope and confidence about the future of the national broadcaster. RTÉ had failed badly but learnt many lessons, he said.

He admitted it was “a challenging and interesting” time for RTÉ in the face of unprecedented competition but that investigative journalism at the station remained alive and well.

Meanwhile, the editor of the Irish Independent, Stephen Rae, warned readers that Independent News & Media is likely to introduce “metering” to access content in the future.

Mr Rae said it was no secret that INM was looking at some form of paywall as media organisations “cannot give content away for nothing”. He hinted that INM was looking at a “leaky paywall” system similar to the one introduced by the New York Times which allows readers a limited amount of free content.

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