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27/05/2002

Independents call for portion of RTE licence fee

The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) have told the Forum on Broadcasting that independents deserve a portion of the RTÉ licence fee.
The Forum on Broadcasting, which was set up to investigate ways to ensure quality public programming is delivered to viewers, is being headed up by Maurice O'Connell – the former governor of the Central Bank. The group is expected to deliver its report to the Arts Minister on July 31.
In a 15-page document submitted to the forum, the IBI also set out its case for further funding of independents through a reserve fund of public money. It also argues for closer regulation of the national broadcaster.
The IBI's aim, it said, is to highlight the breadth of public service as a realm which is not solely represented by RTÉ. The document read: "We are anxious to make a distinction between RTÉ and public service broadcasting. RTÉ as an institution is not the sole public service broadcaster and not all its programming has public service value."
The move will not please the national broadcaster whose chairman, Paddy Wright, made an impassioned plea on behalf of the company for an increase to the licence fee. Mr Wright prophesied RTÉ's "death by a thousand cuts" should no more licence fee money be forthcoming. RTÉ have asked for the fee to be increased to €152 from €107, which would generate about €45 million in extra revenues.
Mr Wright made his call following a disastrous end-of-year report revealing a deficit rise to €70.9 million – up from €14.2 million on the previous year – and overall revenues dipping by €10 million to €258 million due to the continued slump in the advertising market. The broadcaster's total expenditure for the year was €329 million.
The IBI have pointed to the current financial straits at RTÉ and suggested in their report that the viewing public needs to be reassured that they are receiving value for money. Copper-fastening the proposal and, to ensure closer scrutiny of the organisation, the IBI recommend that RTÉ should be regulated by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.
The IBI and RTÉ share common ground on other measures to ensure a minimum percentage of Irish programming during peak hours.
Members of the forum include Ms Gillian Bowler (Budget Travel founder), Ms Jean Callanan (Waterford Crystal marketing director), Prof John Horgan (DCU professor of journalism), Mr Donal Kelly (former RTÉ political editor), Prof Declan Kiberd (UCD English professor), and Ms Patricia Quinn (the Arts Council director).
RTÉ, www.rte.ie
(GMcG)
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