Newstalk fights ‘illegal’ RTÉ licence fee in EU

Newstalk radio station has lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission in which it claims the payment of TV licence fees to RTÉ is not compatible with European Union rules on state aid.

The commercial station argues that the payment of the fees to RTÉ is illegal.

In its complaint, Newstalk alleges that RTÉ consistently uses licence fee income in a manner contrary to the terms approved by the European Commission under EU state aid rules.

Asking the European competition watchdog to intervene, it says RTÉ’s commercial activities are not being carried out on market terms and that RTÉ “is failing to operate in an efficient manner so as to maximise revenues”.

In the complaint, it also highlights RTÉ’s refusal to broadcast television advertisements from Newstalk and complains that RTÉ is aggressively undercutting radio advertisement prices by selling them below cost basis.

Newstalk chief executive Gerard Whelan said: “It is both discriminatory and anti-competitive that RTÉ, which is funded by a national licence fee, can refuse advertising based on self-drafted guidelines.

“Commercial stations in Ireland do not receive any funding from the State and therefore RTÉ should not be allowed to abuse its position by refusing to accept revenue from Newstalk and other stations.

“The national oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to ensure RTÉ’s respects market principals and their predatory pricing cannot be justified.

“Newstalk intends to fight this abuse of a dominant position and will ensure that the European Commission is aware of RTÉ’s activities.”

In 2012, RTÉ received up to €181m from licence fees and another €146m from additional advertising revenue.

Earlier this year, Newstalk said RTÉ’s refusal to screen an advertisement promoting the independent radio station contravened its public sector broadcasting remit.

The station, owned by Communicorp, argued that the decision not to accept the ‘Move the Dial’ advertisement was “motivated solely by its determination to curb the listenership of a competitor”.

At the time, RTÉ spokeswoman Maureen Catterson said the advertisement could not be accepted because it was a “call to action” that breached RTÉ’s advertising code.

Communicorp owns Newstalk, Today FM and Spin in Ireland, as well as stations in the UK, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Jordan.

RTÉ has said the station has no problem airing advertising from competing media including in the past, Newstalk, TV3, Today FM and Sky.

The Department of Communications previously said it did not have a role to play in RTÉ’s commercial policy on advertising.

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