Thursday, 19 November 2020
13. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will consider the creation of a Covid-19 media task force to address the ongoing crisis in the sector in the short term as a result of the pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37042/20]
I thank Deputy Munster for her question. The Government is critically aware of the importance of a vibrant, diverse and independent media, which is essential to our democracy and to our cultural development. The sector is undergoing fundamental change which extends well beyond the current Covid difficulties and there are significant and complex challenges to be faced to ensure a sustainable future for our local, regional and national media. That is why the programme for Government committed to a Future of Media Commission and brought policy responsibility for media functions under the remit of my Department.
The Government has moved quickly to establish the Future of Media Commission under the chairmanship of Professor Brian MacCraith. The commission has already commenced its work and will examine all of these issues and consult widely with the sector. I look forward to receiving the commission's report next year.
In parallel to this development, I have been meeting the sector to discuss the longer-term issues impacting on its sustainability, as well as the more immediate challenges relating to Covid-19.
A number of measures have already been put in place to support the sector. In addition to the general Covid supports available to all businesses such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, waived the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector for quarters 1 and 2 of 2020 saving the sector €1 million, and I secured funding in budget 2021 to recoup the BAI for this waiver. A special sound and vision funding round of €2.5 million was provided to the commercial sector over the summer months. There was also a special sound and vision round of €750,000 for the community radio sector. I have also provided an additional €2 million for sound and vision under the July stimulus package.
The BAI is reporting to me quarterly on the impacts on the commercial radio sector and these reviews will help to inform what, if any, additional measures may need to be taken in that sector.
I am currently considering what further measures might be appropriate to support the sector through the Covid-19 pandemic and while task forces have been used across sectors such as tourism and culture, this would not necessarily be the most effective means to address the media sector, particularly when the Future of Media Commission has already commenced its work and is due to report within nine months. I intend, however, to continue to engage closely with the sector to ensure that it is sustained through this challenging period.
The Future of Media Commission is up and running and it will examine a wide range of issues but the question relates to concerns within the sector in terms of the length of time it will take to report. Does the Minister have a particular date in mind because there are concerns that it will go right into 2022, which is a long time to wait for a sector that has been severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis? The Minister stated that she had set up other Covid-19 task forces on tourism, etc., in her Department but it is something to consider given the serious issues facing the media. We are talking about a short-term task force, literally to address their financial straits. We had spoken earlier about the financial situation local radio is in given the dramatic loss in revenue. We spoke also about the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's request to have the levy extended for the second half of this year and into next year, again due to its dire financial circumstances. Would the Minister consider it given what I have outlined?
The Future of Media Commission has already been established. It has met twice since its establishment. It has a strategic role in regard to the future vision, structuring and funding of media. On when it will report, it is due to report within nine months. That was announced on the date the commission was established. That is an ambitious timescale given the complexity of the issues relating to the future of media but I have full confidence in the commission under the chairmanship of Professor Brian MacCraith.
My approach to this sector is to engage directly with its representatives in bodies across the sector. I met the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland representatives on Monday. We had a productive discussion on the value of the supports to the sector received through 2020 and they outlined their proposals for additional supports for the sector. I asked for the engagement to continue in recognition of the urgency of the situation and a follow-up meeting was held yesterday at official level. I met also the National Union of Journalists on Tuesday of this week and my officials will also have a follow-up meeting with them. I am undertaking to continue this close engagement to ensure the appropriate measures are put in place to support the sector through the crisis.
I thank the Minster but as she is aware, I am talking about the short-term media Covid task force. It would address the Covid-specific issues I have outlined, which have literally turned the sector upside down over the past nine months and which, unfortunately, will be with us for the foreseeable future. The Minister said the commission will address the issues into the future in a long-term way but I am sure she has been lobbied by various stakeholders offering ideas and solutions and airing their problems and concerns that have yet to be addressed. We had the media representatives before the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht and they echoed similar concerns. As I said, they are concerned that there is no end date in terms of the report of the Future of Media Commission.
They specifically expressed the need for something in the short term to deal with Covid-specific issues. Would it be something the Minister would consider given the dire financial circumstances they are in?