Bryan Wall: You’ll Pay And You’ll Like It Too

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From top: RTÉ presenters launch the 2018/2019 television schedule last Summer at Montrose, Dublin 4; Bryan Wall

It’s been an interesting week from the perspective of the average person. Our betters in Dublin have decreed that everyone must pay for RTÉ and its associated services even if they never use any of them.

And we have a government minister apparently delighted that those with drug problems won’t be treated in her constituency.

I say apparently because Josepha Madigan denied approving the wording of the celebratory letter in question even though it contained her signature.

As for RTÉ, it was mooted last week that a broadcast charge is to be introduced to replace the seemingly outdated television licence.

The current licence, it is claimed, is not sufficient because people are “evading” payment. More precisely, 12% of the population don’t pay any licence. Included in this figure are those with an exemption due to the fact that they don’t own a television.

My family and I are included in this.

But a broadcast charge is set to fix that. Now any household with access to a computer, smart phone, or tablet, will be forced to pay.

Not long after it was announced, Dee Forbes, the director-general of RTÉ, proposed that the new charge be added to people’s utility bills so that payment cannot be avoided.

This, she argued, “has happened in other markets” with “very positive” results. Considering the reactions to her proposal among the wider public, don’t be surprised to see a campaign similar to the anti-water charge movement spring up.

Her comments are completely out of touch with the concerns of the wider public and those who rightly criticise RTÉ. It has a long history of a tepid, and lack of, original programming. And that’s not even mentioning the massively inflated salaries of its various presenters.

Add to that its blatant bias towards anything slightly to the political left. Miriam O’Callaghan’s questioning of Mary Lou McDonald in May was a masterclass in this political bias. In the space of 15 minutes O’Callaghan interrupted McDonald 31 times.

This was not an aberration. We routinely witness and accept this kind of behaviour from our national broadcaster.

As a result, one would think RTÉ is in no position to be forcing a charge on people who, when given the chance, would prefer to spend their money elsewhere. What it comes down to is that right now RTÉ has a serious public relations problem.

And this is a pity. That’s because a public broadcaster is an asset. It can offer services to the wider public as well as minorities who otherwise would go unrepresented in the privately owned media. It would be classed as a public utility due to the importance and scale of the services it would provide.

Given this, it wouldn’t need to run at a profit. Public utilities are inherently positive given that they are owned by the public and provide for their needs. Therefore, seeking to achieve a profit becomes secondary if it even enters to equation whatsoever.

But RTÉ is not run like a public utility in this sense, as much as its defenders and representatives might claim. Instead, it’s run along the same lines as a private company with an overriding need to create profit.

But it has one advantage that others don’t: The licence fee. It is in effect a bailout for RTÉ which, if run along free-market principles, would have crashed and burned long ago if not for the licence fee.

This is what irritates more than a few people. It puts the profit motive above all else, thereby ignoring sections of the population who would be unprofitable to provide for.

Its programming is telling in this regard as well as its lack of indigenous productions. Yet, it is funded by the taxpayer via a not insubstantial sum of money in the form of the television licence.

According to the Irish Examiner, RTÉ “received €189.1m from the television licence fee last year and made €150m from commercial revenue”.

There is of course more to RTÉ than television and radio. But the question still remains if the current incarnation of RTÉ is worth the price.

Many, myself included, are willing to pay for media in various formats. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) recently revealed that young people are in fact more likely to pay for access to media than older generations. It wrote that although the rate of those willing to pay for news stands “flat” at 12%,

The 25-34-year age group was most likely to pay for online news (19%) and the 55-64-year age group was least likely to do so (7%).

When asked if they could only have one subscription for a year, “video streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime) were the most popular (35%)”. If those under 25 are of the same opinion, then RTÉ is in serious trouble in the coming years.

This might explain the ridiculous proposal of Forbes. Perhaps it speaks to a desperation in Montrose as opposed to aloofness.

Either way, the likelihood that any attempt to tax people for RTÉ via their utility bills will go unquestioned is highly unlikely.

How Forbes and company react in the coming days will play a large part in setting the atmosphere for any anti-broadcasting charge protest movement that emerges. We’ve seen what the arrogance and scaremongering of the government did when it came to the anti-water charge protests. More of the same might await RTÉ.

Hopefully the executives at RTÉ will take some time to reflect on public sentiment that emerged over the weekend.

Taking time to consider why people are so irritated at the possibility of the broadcasting charge, as well as a general contempt for the television licence as it currently stands, would do them well.

They might also want to consider how to attract the youth audience who are willing to pay for their media.

The simple truth is that it’s 2019 and people can be — and are — a lot more discerning when it comes to where and how they access their news and entertainment. If that means paying for it they’re willing to do so. There’s an entire demographic there ripe for RTÉ to provide for it. If only it knew how to be reasonable and realistic.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

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28 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: You’ll Pay And You’ll Like It Too

  1. eoin

    Speaking of Miriam O’Callaghan and bias. Was Sarah Carey invited onto RTE as a commenter on the Miriam O’Callaghan RTE radio show last Friday?

    For those of you who don’t remember her, she had worked for Denis O’Brien (Esat Telecom) and leaked confidential information provided to her at the Moriarty Tribunal which undermined the Tribunal’s work, and she then lied about it. This is what the Tribunal said in its concluding report in March 2011:

    “In the latter part of her evidence, Ms Carey stated that she had been aware that all Tribunals discussions with witnesses in advance of their giving evidence were conducted on a confidential basis. Apart from meetings and correspondence, dealings were likely to involve the passing of documents to individuals from whom the Tribunal was seeking assistance. She had also been aware that the correspondence expressly stated that such documents were confidential. In the course of the Tribunal’s correspondence with her solicitors, an amount of documentation was passed to her, some of which was never used in public sittings, concerning political payments by Esat Digifone, Esat Telecom and Mr [Denis] O’Brien. These found their way into a Sunday Tribune article. Ms Carey had become aware that, as a result, the Tribunal received considerable criticism from individuals affected by the documents, suggesting that the material had been disclosed by the Tribunal in advance of the hearings. The Tribunal then tracked the documents with all the persons to whom they had been given, with a view to ascertaining by whom the material had been disclosed to the newspaper. When the Tribunal wrote to Ms Carey, her solicitor responded to the effect that she had not made the disclosure. This was not the case, and it transpired that she was the person who had done so”
    When the Moriarty report was published, Carey was then fired from her role as a columnist with the Irish Times. The IT wrote in March 2011 “In a statement issued yesterday evening, Ms Carey said that following a meeting with the editor “it was made clear to me that I had no choice but to resign my position as columnist with the Irish Times””

    After the IT, Carey was thrown a lifebuoy by Denis O’Brien and she worked as a presenter on a Communicorp radio station until 2017 when she was let go. She was subsequently hired as a columnist with the Sunday Times/Times Ireland but she disappeared from their pages about a year ago. She re-appeared in the Sunday Times a couple of months ago, but hasn’t been seen since.

    She was presented by Miriam on RTE last week as a “communications” person.

  2. Clampers Outside!

    I find it hard to believe Me Wall nor any of his family do not listen or view any RTE services…. how would he know to comment on their content if he did not, eh…

    pffft…. suuuuure ya dont…. to that claim Bryan, which is what you do claim is it not, in all fairness.

    See Listrade’s comment on Mr Taft’s post for more reasoned commentary on the matter.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        But the point is to provide different services to different tastes…. some only listen to, say 2XM, but they are still service users.

        Again, see Listrade’s reasoned comment under Mr Taft’s post.

        1. Treasa

          RTE should be wound down, like any loss making enterprise should be. No point in extorting people who neither use nor want it.

          1. Listrade

            Disagree. Good stuff can come from Public Broadcasting. Heaven forbid everything is like TV3. Netflix was no surprise, HBO have been doing popular quality dramas and documentaries for years, Netflix was able to bring that to a global audience and with streaming.

            The point is that public broadcasting has to be broad and so won’t appeal to everyone all the time. The BBC had the same problem in pursuing viewing figures instead of developing programmes. That mandate changed.

            Like a lot of people, I’m legally obligated to watch the Toy Show, the 20 mins of Late Late before Graham Norton starts and most of the Saturday Kids Movies (with obligatory moaning about breaking for the news and Lotto), Sports Broadcasting and an occasional Eastenders on RTE +1 when she misses the BBC broadcast.

            But the caveat with Public Broadcasting is we all pay and there may be something of interest to us. Whether it’s on the main channel or split off (like BBC 4). I’d be far happier paying for something with a broader interest where more get something out of it.

            If it were fixed with reduced wages, less reliance on over seas developed programming, more opportunities for new Irish writing and production (drama or factual) and the many other issues, i’d be even more happy to pay a licence fee (even if I rarely used the service). I’d also be happy if even after all of that people didn’t want to watch anything produced by or via RTE that there was an opt out from the licence fee similar to UK.

          2. Spaghetti Hoop

            It sounds like you are getting your license fee’s worth. Plus your household is tuning into Tubridy – that’s a €500k salary justified in RTE’s view.

  3. Cian

    don’t be surprised to see a campaign similar to the anti-water charge movement spring up.
    I don’t see any similarity between the TV Licence changes and the water charges.

    At the moment over a million people do pay for the licence. If there is a change to direct-tax, there should be savings in collection/avoidance so to gather the same money, each person will pay less. 350,000 get ‘free’ licences, I’d hope that any change to the collection mechanism won’t affect them.

    The only people that will be adversely affected are those that currently don’t have a licence. Some of these use RTE but don’t pay, others neither use nor pay. Only the latter group would have my sympathy.

  4. garrett

    I never watch or listen to RTE programmes, why should I pay?
    As for pay, Forbes gets a package of €338k. Unreal
    Pension contributions worth €63k per annum. She’s 51, so 15 years of this gets her a pension pot of over a million euros.
    Again I ask, why?

    1. Treasa

      It’s a racket. Why do I have to pay just for having a television? I never ever watch anything from RTE. Ever. Make it an online subscription service and see how long it lasts.

  5. Joe Small

    “Our betters in Dublin…” I stopped reading then. I’m not from Dublin but recognise someone with a chip on their shoulder.

    1. Ron

      He talking about a collective government of politicians based in Dublin num nuts. That’s where the seat of Government is and where the decrees are issued from.

  6. Bertie Theodore Alphege Blenkinsop

    How do you know someone has no telly?
    They’ve already told you.

  7. Liam Deliverance

    RTE, slash the wages of your so called “stars”, drop the political bias and get your head out of the trough and then come back to me with your plans and maybe we can work something out.

    I can’t believe Dee Forbes could watch 30 mins of Tubridy and say, hand on heart, that he is worth the salary he gets. He is a nice enough chap but taxpayers money should not be used to support that rubbish. If I watch more than a few mins of him my fists start to ball and I’m looking at the dog wondering if he could take another walk.

    Same for Darcy, Joe, Miriam, Marian and many others, again nice enough folk but why the hell are they being paid those figures to produce that sort of sh one t. Forbes wants to increase the licence fee so that they can pay those people, and her self, higher salaries while doing nothing about content, same old, same old.

    Tubridy was paid 3/4 million back in the good ole days so obviously something is rotten in the state of RTE, go sort yourself out first.

    1. Cian

      I don’t understand why the news presenters are paid so much. It is just reading from an autocue.

      1. V

        And I don’t know why everyone focus’ on the payroll

        Sack all the Big 10 out there,
        and the place would still be a basket case

        Sack anyone involved in on air emissions, live or otherwise, and production content,
        and Main Stream Media will still be festering inbred cesspit of selfinterest, patronage, and nepotism

        Seriously
        I reckon they deliberately point ye in that direction to distract ye

  8. Lilly

    I listen to RTE radio 1 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. What’s that worth per annum? I refuse, however, to be fleeced for the drivel they serve up on TV since I don’t watch it.

    1. Chuckenstein

      same here. Radio 1 is a decent service but I’d struggle to find any positives in the rest of the output.

  9. A Person

    How come lefties always moan about paying for services (which they supposedly don’t use)? Some don’t even pay their mortgages. Let everyone else pay for them…..

    1. Rob_G

      And here is yet another that is based on a morning ireland interview (excuse the spaces in the URL, don’t want to trigger the spam filter again): broadsheet , ie /2019/07/01/bryan-wall-whats-a-little-private-messaging-between-friends/

    2. Rob_G

      I stopped looking at this point, but about one-third of B. Wall’s poorly-thought out articles seem to be at least partially-based on RTÉ’s output – I’m not sure whether this counts as an argument in favour, or against, the continued funding of this organisation…

  10. Ian-O

    Besides clips online from links to story or occasionally seeing it in someones elses home, I haven’t had any RTE stations, either radio or TV in my home for years.

    RTE does not provide any service to me, if anything, when I look at the likes of Miriam O’Callaghan, Finucane, Tubridy or Duffy I could argue they are providing me with a disservice.

    Finucanes show is basically there to provide a bit of damage insulation for certain select individuals and its quite sickening and Tubridy is a fop best left to play with the kids on the Toy Show (which I believe he does very well to be fair.)

  11. Denis Rusk

    RTE are not a public/state broadcaster, in spite of claiming they are. Their ‘stars’ are often self employed on a contract basis, or through agencies, and they carry adverts. They compete for programmes which a lot of people would be interested in watching, like ROI football games and are regularly beaten by Sky for these rights. They pay average presenters obscene salaries which would make a brain surgeon blush. I don’t watch them, don’t want them and refuse to support them. They disenfranchised every singer, songwriter and musician in the country 2 years ago by sending one of their own, a fair city actor, to Eurovision and this year they spent your licence fee in Israel, in spite of a public outcry. Your money is now floating around in the hands of a despot. Their TV signal arrives scrambled from the astra satellite so you can’t watch their output without a sky or other subscription. Don’t mention Saor view…do you really expect me to pay for sale view at my own expense for TV I don’t want? RTE do…they told me as much. Make it pay per view and let it sink or swim on its merits. We won’t mention the nepotism….

  12. Denis Rusk

    RTE are not a public/state broadcaster, in spite of claiming they are. Their ‘stars’ are often self employed on a contract basis, or through agencies, and they carry adverts. They compete for programmes which a lot of people would be interested in watching, like ROI football games and are regularly beaten by Sky for these rights. They pay average presenters obscene salaries which would make a brain surgeon blush. I don’t watch them, don’t want them and refuse to support them. They disenfranchised every singer, songwriter and musician in the country 2 years ago by sending one of their own, a fair city actor, to Eurovision and this year they spent your licence fee in Israel, in spite of a public outcry. Your money is now floating around in the hands of a despot. Their TV signal arrives scrambled from the astra satellite so you can’t watch their output without a sky or other subscription. Don’t mention Saor view…do you really expect me to pay for saor view at my own expense for TV I don’t want? RTE do…they told me as much. Make it pay per view and let it sink or swim on its merits. We won’t mention the nepotism….

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