Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht
Future of Public Service Broadcasting and Impact of Covid-19 on the Media Sector: Discussion
I commend the media, broadcasting and journalism sector on getting us through the Covid-19 crisis. It is quite clear that many people in Ireland relied on public service broadcasting and on journalists to provide information over the past few months, particularly the likes of RTÉ and its education programming when schools were out. That was really great.
Senator Warfield touched on the subject of online platforms and stuff so possibly I do not need to go into it again. I noted that he said that 2.5 million people watched "Normal People" on the RTÉ player service. I would say that a similar number complained that they could not get the RTÉ player to work, albeit perhaps not 2.5 million. A negative reputation is a serious problem. If the player has a reputation of not working, one will not be able to drive the traffic to it. That must be recognised because the player has really great content. It will be difficult to get people to use the service if all they hear is how impossible it is to use the player. That reputation is obviously a problem for RTÉ.
I will talk about the rights of freelance workers for a moment. It is great to have someone from the National Union of Journalists present. Perhaps someone can offer a commentary on the need for State support to be given to freelance journalists. We have the sound and vision fund that is administered by the BAI. Unfortunately, the scheme is confined to broadcast journalism so a whole series of journalists have been left out.
From a Labour Party perspective and workers' rights perspective, I am concerned about workers' rights in the sector. I am firm in my belief that if the State is to give special assistance, then there should be corresponding assurances about employment rights, wages and payment. In particular, there is the recognition of the rights of workers to be represented by trade unions. The commercial radio sector is generally low paid and union recognition sometimes has been fraught. Some stations do recognise union recognition but it is something of a problem across the sector. Today, I heard there have been pay cuts at a number of radio stations. How will we balance State aid and supports with workers' rights, if they are the ones having pay cuts and losing out? I know I have left only a tiny amount of time for the witnesses to answer.