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Need for independent funding review of public service broadcasting – IBI Broadcasting Conference

Every week 1,329 hours of public service broadcasting content is provided by independent broadcasters, delegates attending the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland annual conference heard today.

Addressing the conference, IBI Chairman Scott Williams said; “A study of our members output shows that Independent radio is delivering the equivalent of 55 days or eight continuous weeks of public service broadcasting every week. These figures demonstrate in the strongest possible terms that independent broadcasters are meeting the needs of Irish listeners for news, for entertainment and for access to the airwaves. More importantly, they put paid to the notion that state owned organisations have a monopoly on public service. Such a view is absurd, inefficient and ineffective.”

“Minister Rabbitte has referred to RTÉ as the state’s “public service” broadcaster. We would like to remind Minister Rabbitte that with over 2.4 million listeners each week day, all independent radio stations provide a public service and that this is a condition of their licence. Such comments by the Minister are undermining of the professionalism and of the output of Independent broadcasters.”

Mr. Williams said that the IBI’s survey of members output confirms the need for Government to deliver on its commitment to review the funding of public and independent broadcasting to ensure a healthy broadcasting environment in Ireland.

“Public service broadcasting is where the listening public are. And the Irish public are overwhelmingly listening to Independent radio. It would be extraordinary if the additional €25 million expected to be raised by a new Public Service Broadcasting charge were simply transferred into the coffers of an organisation which garners just one third of listening time. It is not a simple question of public funds; it is a question of unfair and unbalanced dual funding.”

“Nearly the entire licence fee currently collected goes to a state owned organisation that also has a commercial mandate and an enormous market presence. Independent radio is almost completely excluded from public funding, despite its delivery of a major public service obligation. Independent radio is also competing in an impoverished and a distorted commercial market. Any change based on the interests of the audience has to begin from the premise that that status quo is unfair and is unsustainable.”

Calling for an independent review, Mr. Williams said; “The Minister’s promised review must be a fully independent one. It must be independent of the BAI who are stakeholders in the sector’s funding as well as the arbiters of the sectors standards. It must include and be genuinely representative of the audience that ultimately we are all fully and professionally dedicated to,” he said.

Mr. Williams stressed that the IBI was not targeting RTÉ.  “To be clear, this is not about RTÉ.  That organisation can rightly be proud of much of what it does. But, the growing parity of esteem between RTÉ and the Independent sector must be recognised. Both the state and independent broadcasters play an important role in delivering diverse quality content to radio listeners throughout Ireland.  Our willingness to partner on initiatives such as Choose Radio and Radio Gauge point to the mutual respect we hold for each other and, more importantly our joint commitment to a healthy radio sector.”

He concluded saying; “Minister Rabbitte has a once in a generation opportunity to rebalance and to realign public resources and the commercial market with the choice of the listening public. There is a fundamental question of fairness. There is a fundamental question of esteem. And for many of the broadcasters there is an urgent question of commercial survival.”

“What the IBI is seeking is a level playing pitch and a recognition that people’s choice should be recognised and be respected. Independent broadcasting is intertwined in the life of every community in the country. Two thirds of the population tune into our stations on a daily basis. Irish people are listening to Independent radio for two out of every three minutes of radio broadcast. With more than 1500 people employed in the sector, independent broadcasters are making a significant economic, social and cultural contribution to the Irish economy and this must be recognised in any review of funding for the sector”.

The IBI Annual Conference is sponsored by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO).

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