Gabhaim buíochas leis na baill as an gcuireadh. I welcome any opportunity to talk about "Nuacht RTÉ", not least to say how proud I am of the whole team for what they have achieved during the pandemic. As the director general made clear in last week’s RTÉ annual report, the mission to provide the people of Ireland with an impartial and comprehensive news service is at the heart of what we do, in Irish and in English, and never more so than during a public health emergency.
RTÉ is firmly committed to supporting the Irish language and to delivering on its public service obligations. Section 114 of The Broadcasting Act 2009 charges RTÉ with the responsibility to “provide programmes of news and current affairs in the Irish and English languages”. Under section 120 of the Act, RTÉ is obliged to provide TG4 with “the equivalent of one hour ... [daily of] programme material" in the Irish language. "Nuacht RTÉ" forms a substantial part of the provision formalised between RTÉ and TG4 in the 2018 to 2022 protocol agreement.
RTÉ employs more journalists working in Irish than any other news organisation in Ireland. RTÉ makes more than 250 hours of television news and current affairs in the Irish language every year, built around a multi-platform nuacht service broadcast on RTÉ One, the RTÉ news channel and TG4, online and on mobile via the RTÉ news app. The staff are employed by RTÉ and "Nuacht RTÉ" is part of RTÉ news and current affairs, led by its príomheagarthóir. The service is broadcast from TG4 studios at Baile na hAbhann. In addition, RTÉ also produces "7 Lá" for TG4. RTÉ broadcasts news bulletins in Irish every day on RTÉ Radio 1, 2FM and Lyric FM, while Raidió na Gaeltachta has been a lifeline service for many during the pandemic.
The financial challenge facing RTÉ remains as acute as ever, despite the temporary surplus reported in 2020, which was a direct consequence of the pandemic. Journalism relies on people, and our people are our biggest cost. The scale of the financial challenge means it will touch every part of the organisation. Like every organisation and every family in Ireland, Covid-19 means RTÉ has had to explore different ways of doing things. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges for impartial and independent journalism.
Together, Raidió na Gaeltachta, and "Nuacht RTÉ" have given voice to Gaeltacht and Irish language communities. While they told their stories, we reminded them they were not alone. Through Raidió na Gaeltachta and "Nuacht RTÉ", RTÉ directly supports the employment of 113 people in the Gaeltacht. Over the past four years, in partnership with TG4, RTÉ has relaunched "Nuacht RTÉ", given it a new identity and moved it into a bigger studio. It has also invested substantial funding in extending "7 Lá" to a 42-week run and adding two additional posts to the team in Baile na hAbhann. For the first time, "Nuacht RTÉ" has a single identity across both broadcasters, evidence of Ireland’s two public service media organisations working together for the benefit of Irish audiences.
It is a service that is valued by viewers. Earlier this year, TG4 commissioned research from the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, and Red C, which found that 82% rated the service provided by RTÉ as “excellent” or “good”.
Encouragingly, the support was strongest among viewers aged 18 to 34, 83% of whom rated the programme highly. Due to the importance of the service, RTÉ has consistently sought to protect Irish language journalism from the consequences of the organisation's broader financial challenges.
Since the TV licence fee was last adjusted by the Oireachtas, RTÉ's income has fallen by €100 million. In 2021, there are 32 fewer journalists in the Dublin newsroom than there were a decade ago, a period in which RTÉ news has also become a digital-first news organisation and built its presence online and on mobile in addition to existing radio and television services. During that same period, five posts have been closed in "Nuacht RTÉ".
Such is RTÉ's commitment to Irish language journalism, that in 2021, the budget for "Nuacht RTÉ" is higher than it was in 2018. However, when it launched its revised strategy in November 2019, RTÉ was clear that it had to find €60 million in savings against projected costs, and the need for public funding remains as acute as ever. RTÉ employs camera operators on staff and several companies are contracted to supply crewing for "Nuacht RTÉ". Currently, in any one week, "Nuacht RTÉ" has 28 days of dedicated crewing and a further five provided by video journalists.
Earlier this year, RTÉ decided to reduce this number by three contract crewing days in Dublin and, instead, continues some of the pandemic-era innovations, such as Zoom interviews and utilising some of the existing RTÉ staff crews working in Dublin. The crewing changes represent less than 10% of the dedicated crewing video capacity currently provided to "Nuacht RTÉ". Its journalism and focus on Súil Eile comes from the journalism of its team, the stories it chooses and the contributors it interviews rather than who is behind the camera.
The proposal is not to stop the provision of crewing for "Nuacht RTÉ" in Dublin. It is to provide it differently, consistent with operational changes within RTÉ news and current affairs. The new crewing system has now been in place for a couple of months and is working well. The real threat to "Nuacht RTÉ" and to much else that RTÉ supports comes from the financial unsustainability of RTÉ's funding model and the persistent annual loss of more than €50 million per year through the broken TV licence system. Far from endangering "Nuacht RTÉ", greater collaboration between the news desks in Dublin and Baile na hAbhann is essential for its survival.