In line with my responsibilities for the broadcasting sector, I confirm that I have met with the representative body, Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI), on three occasions (8 June 2011, 3 July 2012 and on 16 January 2013) since my appointment as Minister and that these meetings included discussion of the IBI’s proposals regarding public funding.
As I have stated previously in this House, while I fully recognise the contribution of the independent radio sector in bringing diversity to the airwaves, and serving the needs of communities, I remain to be convinced that the distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters represents a sound proposition in terms of policy for the sector. These stations were founded as commercial operations with creating a profit for their owners as their primary objective. Station owners sought and accepted licences on clear commercial terms. In many cases, their success in the licence application process was assisted by the voluntary commitments they gave in regard to the provision of public service type content, over and above that required by the relevant legislation. The fact that some of these stations are now undergoing an understandable degree of financial stress does not mean that the State should immediately step in and provide funding – they are and remain commercial companies. Moreover, it should also be noted that the very popularity of these stations in the communities they serve is, in many cases, as a distinct result of the local news content and current affairs type programming that they provide and which, in turn, gives them a powerful advertising presence and thus earning potential. As the economy recovers, it is to be expected that this commercial pressure will ease as advertising revenues recover apace.
In addition, as the Deputy may be aware, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is presently engaged in the first five year review of the funding of public service broadcasting corporations, RTÉ and TG4, under Section 124 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. As part of this review, the Authority will specifically examine the impact of further ‘top slicing’ of the available licence fee fund on the ability of these two broadcasters to deliver on their statutory public service mandates. The findings of this review will be used to inform my Department’s policy making in this area.