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Bruton’s policies will undermine public service broadcasting & lead to job cuts

2 August 2019

The NUJ has warned that the Irish minister for communications is undermining public service broadcasting by failing to adequately support RTÉ and by his refusal to implement urgent reforms of the TV licence fee system.

NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley said that the minister’s "private sector mentality" poses a threat to employment and to public service broadcasting. He renewed the NUJ’s call for a commission on the future of the media in Ireland which would look at all the challenges facing, print, broadcasting and digital platforms. In a statement he said:

"This is a bad news day for anyone with a commitment to public service values. While we welcome the principle of replacing the current licence fee with a broadcasting charge it is absurd that this should take five years. The crisis facing public service broadcasting is such that this move will be too little too late. It is telling that the government has ignored the recommendation of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), which he has championed as an independent regulator. BAI has recommended that RTÉ should receive immediate government funding of €30m to deal with the current financial crisis. In October 2018 the BAI recommended that, at a minimum, RTÉ should receive an immediate increase in its annual public funding of €30m and recommended an increase of €6m per year in public funding for TG4 ‘to assist them in meeting environmental, technological and financial challenges while also fulfilling audience expectations, both now and into the future.’

"Bruton invokes the report of the working group on the future of public service broadcasting to support his position. It is hard to escape the conclusion that independent advice is accepted when it conforms with his private sector based view of communications policy which, despite his rhetoric to the contrary, devalues public service broadcasting. 
"The current licence collection system is broken and is in urgent need of reform. I am not convinced that outsourcing to a private, commercial company would be the best option. It is an absolute scandal that successive governments failed to address the high evasion rate, now at 12pc, and it should not have been beyond the ability of the current minister to ensure a more efficient system by An Post. The government must be mindful of the employment implications of removing the service from An Post and reform of the collection method would make far more sense. If that cannot be delivered the NUJ would favour collection by the Revenue Commissioners.
"We have well founded concerns for the future of employment in RTÉ. Working with our sister unions in RTÉ and with the support of the ICTU the NUJ will resist attacks on employment in RTÉ and we will expect the full support of the RTÉ executive and board in defending the integrity of the primary public service broadcaster in Ireland.
"RTÉ employees have met their public service obligations and delivered a world class service. In this regard we are especially concerned at the minister’s suggestion that further money should be diverted to private sector production companies. The way to support original Irish content production is to ensure a sustainable future for RTÉ."

Séamus Dooley said the NUJ has a number of concerns about the provisions of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 and will be examining the bill in the coming weeks. He said: 

"While the principle of bursaries for journalists in local or community radio stations may be worth supporting we would have real concerns about the license being used to prop up stations owned by commercial companies who have failed to invest in journalism and who, in some cases, employ workers on low wages and precarious contracts. We believe that before any such funding is made available there should be a public consultation process and engagement with the NUJ, as the representative trade union. There is also a need for a review of the governance structures of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which is established without provision for trade union or staff representation.
"Overall, the NUJ believes there is a need for a commission on the future of the media in Ireland which would examine the challenges and opportunities across all sectors. It would not be confined to broadcasting and would look at potential support for print and digital platforms, at the promotion of media diversity, of training and community access as well as employment standards. 
The report of the forum on broadcasting was published in 2002. The commission on the newspaper industry was published in 1996. There is now a need for an all-embracing commission. If there is to be a five-year lead-in to the introduction of the new charge let us at least set about the task of planning for the future in a strategic manner. A key objective of any plan should be the maintenance and protection of public service broadcasting."

Tags: , ireland, broadcasting, rté, media commission, media ownership, funding, job cuts, government ireland