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Independent Broadcasters call for sectoral funding overhaul

Scott Williams, Chairman of the IBI has called for a radical overhaul of the funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland.  His call comes as the latest JNLR figures show independent radio continues to attract over 2 million listeners.

Speaking at the IBI AGM in Dublin, Williams said; “A radical overhaul of public service broadcasting funding is long overdue.  Today we are launching the IBI position with regards to the funding of broadcasting in Ireland which, if accepted, would result in a healthier sector with real choice and quality broadcasting for the listener”.

“There has been little or no change made to the structure of broadcast funding since the 1960’s despite the radical changes which have taken place in Ireland’s broadcasting landscape.  The introduction of a Public Service Broadcasting Charge, if used to fund all forms of broadcasting, will reflect actual usage levels, the changes in technology and the availability of media on many different devices”.

The IBI is focused on two key areas of change – the abolition of Sound and Vision and its replacement with a new Public Service Broadcasting Fund and the funding of the Regulator from the proposed Public Service Broadcasting Charge which will be levied on all households instead of the TV licence fee.

Scott Williams points out that the stated aim of the Sound & Vision Scheme was to allow broadcasters to produce programmes which would not normally be financially viable in order to provide a better service to the public. However, he says that an extremely high number of broadcasters have stopped applying for Sound & Vision funding due to the rejection of high levels of submissions and an application system that is an administrative nightmare for the Regulator and applicant alike.

“Public service broadcasting is an essential service provided by independent radio stations at significant cost which is not recognised by the BAI or supported by Exchequer funding.    We can address this anomaly and fix much of what is wrong with the current scheme, if we replaced Sound & Vision with a new Public Service Broadcasting Fund .  A specified percentage of the fund would be ring-fenced for commercial radio broadcasting and the qualifications for funding would be streamlined to broaden the type of programmes included in the scheme e.g. live programming. This would recognise that much of the output of independent broadcasters is public service in nature and highly popular while allowing independent radio stations to provide great radio for its listeners”, he says.

On future funding of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Williams says that the broadcasting industry believes that given that more monies will be collected by the proposed Public Broadcasting Charge, this should be used to directly fund the regulator, rather than levying the industry.

“The current levy is in the region of  €6 million per annum which is a significant burden on many stations.  Using the Public Broadcasting Charge to directly fund the regulator will provide a financial benefit to all radio and television broadcasters – state funded, commercial or community.   The €6 million saved by the industry is a sizeable figure which would be available for reinvestment in quality programming and employment in the sector”, said Williams.

“It is in the interests of the listening public that the Minister carefully examines the funding of broadcasting in Ireland and identifies ways in which the new Public Service Broadcasting Charge can support the broad based local, regional and national radio broadcasting sector in Ireland.   Our proposals are cost neutral and  will ultimately deliver a stronger broadcasting sector for the benefit of radio listeners and for benefit of the 1500 people employed in the sector”, he said.

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