Thursday, 7 November 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
It is appropriate that I begin by mentioning that one of my brothers works in RTÉ and has been involved in the restructuring plans that have been publicised today. It is important for me to say that for the record.
In my view, public service broadcasting is more important than it has ever been. Independent objective reporting of domestic and international affairs is absolutely crucial for any functioning democracy. We must recognise that the landscape in which broadcasters operate is undergoing a transformation, which is giving rise to new challenges for the Government and for RTÉ in terms of the need for reform. Audiences are transitioning away from traditional platforms and are increasingly accessing content online through digital media. Additional funding has been provided to RTÉ. Additional funding of €10 million was allocated to the broadcaster between 2018 and 2019.
In August, the Government accepted the recommendations of the working group on the future funding of public service broadcasting regarding the reform of the TV licence fee collection system. As a result, TV licence fee collection will be put out to tender when the enabling legislation - the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019, which recently passed Second Stage - is enacted. This will allow a five-year contract for the service to be put in place, thereby giving the successful bidder an opportunity and an incentive to invest in a collection system that reduces evasion levels, which are far too high. According to the official figure I have seen, the current evasion rate is 12.83%. This does not compare well with other countries. The Government has agreed that at the end of the five-year contract period, the licence fee should be replaced by a device-independent broadcasting charge, which will take account of technological change and will enable the sustainable funding of public service content in the longer term. That is welcome. It is not appropriate to continue to pay for public service broadcasting into the medium term by imposing a charge or a licence fee in respect of television ownership. We know that at least 10% of homes do not have televisions. People in those homes watch content online on tablets, iPads and computer screens.
We are adapting from a public policy perspective and from a funding approach perspective. It is important to say that even though RTÉ's commercial income decreased significantly during the recession - by €100 million, from €250 million to €150 million - it was in a position to break even in 2013 and 2014. Its commercial revenue has been largely stable since then. It remained at approximately €150 million between 2013 and 2018. Licence fee revenues increased from €179 million to €189 million over the same period. RTÉ's operating costs increased by approximately 11% during that period. We will play our part from a policy point of view. We expect RTÉ to evolve and to make the decisions that are necessary to respond to dramatic changes in consumer approaches to media.