Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Questions (38)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

38. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on whether public service broadcasting should and will include a dedicated station for culture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42163/19]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Following the previous question on the financial crisis in RTÉ, my question is specifically about whether, in continuing to support public service broadcasting - as I believe we should - we recognise that public service broadcasting is not just news and sport, it is also about culture, music, etc. I ask this because in a recent edition of "Prime Time", an alarming suggestion was made that Lyric FM might be a victim of RTÉ's financial crisis. It would be an act of cultural vandalism if this were to prove the case.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Public service broadcasting is provided for in Part 7 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The Act sets out the remit, obligations and principal objects of the public service broadcasting corporations, RTÉ and TG4, and their statutory obligations. As set out in sections 114 and 118 of the Act, both public service broadcasters are statutorily required to provide a comprehensive range of programmes that reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island of Ireland. As such, Irish culture is reflected across the full range of public service broadcasting channels and is not limited to a single service or station. The role of public service broadcasting is to provide a range of programming that entertains, informs and educates, provides coverage of sporting, religious and cultural activities and caters for the expectations of the community in general, as well as members of communities with special or minority interests. TG4 has a particular obligation to reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island of Ireland through the Irish language. This content is also made available to Irish communities outside of Ireland. Section 98 provides that RTÉ and TG4 shall be independent in the pursuit of these objectives. As such, the Minister has no function in RTÉ's or TG4’s management of their day-to-day affairs or editorial decisions about programming. However, under section 103 of the Act, where a public service broadcasting corporation wishes to increase or vary the number of television or sound broadcasting channels it operates, it requires the consent of the Minister. No such request is to hand at present.

The particular suggestion here is that Lyric FM might be cut as a result of the financial difficulties of RTÉ. The Minister has a role in that because, as the Minister of State said, public service broadcasting is about maintaining the diversity of Irish cultural experience. Lyric FM, which only accounts for a tiny 2% of RTÉ's budget, is the channel that has opened up a large, new audience to classical, experimental, world, jazz, blues and other music, including opera, as well as output from the National Concert Hall and so on. Young people and many sections of society would never get a chance to listen to these types of music otherwise. Lyric FM makes a significant contribution to developing music and culture in this country. It would be unacceptable and it would be a dereliction of the responsibility of public service broadcasting to allow Lyric FM to become the victim of the financial difficulties of RTÉ. The Minister and the Government should intervene to make sure that does not happen so that public service broadcasting discharges its cultural responsibility.

I agree with the Deputy. I often listen to Lyric FM on my way to Galway from Dublin, especially at nighttime, and it is a great channel. I repeat that where any change is proposed in the amount of content, the Minister must consent. The Act sets out that in such circumstances the Department must carry out a stakeholder consultation, followed by a sectorial impact analysis by the BAI. A formal business case setting out the rationale for change is also required. Any request made in the future will have to be evaluated to explore its impacts and what the alternatives might be within the Act. As I stated, we have not received a proposal from RTÉ to vary any of its services. The Minister has powers under the Act to consider any such proposal if one is made.

I am glad to hear that response and that the Minister of State is a fan of Lyric FM. He should keep an eye on this matter. It was mentioned on a "Prime Time" programme about the financial difficulties in RTÉ. As I said, it would be completely unacceptable for this to happen. Lyric FM is a Limerick-based station. It has a good relationship with the department of music, arts and culture in the University of Limerick and employs people in the city. The station has a major cultural impact across the country.

There are questions about the funding of public service broadcasting. We should be looking at imposing some taxes on the profits of companies such as Netflix, Now TV and Sky which are making a hell of a lot of money here. Why not tax their profits to invest in public service broadcasting and cultural output generally? It is worth noting that our levels of investment in arts and culture is pathetically low by European standards. Cutting Lyric FM would be unacceptable. The Minister of State must keep a close eye on this in case Lyric FM becomes a victim of these circumstances when we need more cultural output and not less.

Deputy Dooley wishes to contribute on the same issue.

I add my voice to that of Deputy Boyd Barrett. While I addressed the overall issue of funding in my question, I too am hugely supportive of the work of Lyric FM. The kinds of proposals coming from RTÉ, which we hope to challenge in the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment when its representatives come before us, for example, dismantling some of the broadcaster's arts and culture services, would be an appalling vista. Lyric FM provides a fantastic service which has to be maintained. It is relatively cheap in overall terms.

On the idea of RTÉ selling off its crown jewels, I note it is selling some of its artwork, some of which could end up outside the State and lost to the State forever. It includes some fine pieces of work that have been put together over time. RTÉ is also talking about selling land in Cork and selling more land in Donnybrook. At some point, that carry-on has to stop. We either believe in public service journalism or we do not. If not, that is fine. Let us be beholden to Sky and the private sector and move on. However, if we believe in it, we should put together a proper plan that supports RTÉ as well as public service journalism in the print media and independent radio sectors.

The music on Lyric FM is soothing to many politicians, including the Minister of State.

We all know RTÉ has stated publicly it faces significant financial challenges and must maintain an emphasis on value for money across its services and technologies. As a result, it has initiated a review of all services with a view to restructuring. It has engaged with PricewaterhouseCoopers to validate strategy and financial modelling and it has also met the BAI. I repeat that no proposal has come to the Minister to vary anything. Until such time, the Broadcasting Act 2009 sets out specific objects RTÉ is obliged to meet and any variation in service is subject to the consent of the Minister under section 103 of the Act.