Written Answers - Television Licence Fee

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 740 No. 1

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  11.  Deputy Robert Troy  Information on Robert Troy  Zoom on Robert Troy   asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   his views that in view of modern technology, it is reasonable that €18 million of the licence fee was attributed to RTE Radio 1 in 2010; and if he has asked RTE, in view of the high salaries paid to broadcasters at the station, that the public service funding requirement be reduced. [23860/11]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  RTÉ is an independent national public service broadcaster whose remit and obligations are set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009. Section 114(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 charges RTÉ with providing and operating a national sound broadcasting service which shall have the character of [95]a public service, be a free-to-air service and be made available, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, to the whole community on the island of Ireland.

Section 98 provides that the company shall be independent in the pursuance of this object, subject to the requirements of the Act, and as such I, as Minister, have no function in the management of RTÉ’s day to day affairs, including matters relating to its budget for Radio One in 2010 and in relation to general staff remuneration and contracts. These are purely matters for RTÉ management who no doubt seek to manage their full cost base in a way that ensures the financial sustainability of the company.

That said, I would highlight to the Deputy that the €18.4 million of licence fee revenue attributed to RTÉ Radio One in 2010 represents a 21.7% reduction on the licence fee attributed to the station in 2009. It serves as an example of the widespread and significant cost reductions which RTÉ has undertaken and continues to undertake. I would also point out to the Deputy that RTÉ Radio One provides a very substantial quantum and quality of public service content, continues to attract the highest national share of listeners in the State, and, accordingly, fulfils an integral role as part of the public service broadcasting landscape in this country.

With regard to the public funding of RTÉ, it is the case that this has been reduced in recent times, both in the most recent Government Budget and with the onset of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The Act provided that the proportion of net television licence fee receipts to be paid to RTÉ was reduced from 95% to 93% having the affect of reducing RTÉ’s annual budget by approximately €4 million. The Budget of last December resulted in the reduction of RTÉ’s public funding by €10 million as a result of the decision to transfer that sum to assist in the funding of TG4. The Budget also capped the payment of free television licences issued by the Department of Social Protection at 2010 levels which is expected to further reduce the corporation’s funding by €3 million in 2011.

This series of reductions in RTÉ’s public funding is taking place in an economic climate where RTÉ’s commercial revenue has reduced drastically when compared to 2008 levels. RTÉ is forecasting a significant end year deficit this year having already posted a €4.7 million deficit in 2010. I have met recently with RTÉ management and I have made my view clear that a continuing deficit position is not tenable. I believe that the management fully concur with this and will take the remedial action necessary to address the situation.

RTÉ has invested significantly in respect of the upgrading of infrastructure to facilitate the successful transition to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). In this context, Deputies should be aware that Capital Expenditure of up to €70 million will be incurred by RTÉ. It is important that the costs of DTT roll-out do not place an undue burden on the company.

Section 124(8) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 requires the BAI to carry out a review on the adequacy or otherwise of the funding of public service broadcasters not more than 3 years after the passing of the Broadcasting Act 2009. I look forward to receiving this review, which is due to be completed by the Authority by mid-2012 at the latest, as it will assist in informing any policy decisions I may take on the future public funding of public service broadcasters.

In conclusion, I am confident that the Board and management of RTÉ are taking the necessary action to ensure that the company is placed on a sustainable financial footing as soon as possible and that it continues to meet its legal obligations.


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