The Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, recognises the importance of a vibrant, diverse and independent media to our democracy and our cultural development. In this context we have expanded the remit of the Public Service Broadcasting Commission to become the Future of Media Commission, tasked with considering the future of print, broadcast, and online media in a platform agnostic fashion. On 29 September 2020 the Government agreed the terms of reference and membership of the Future of Media Commission. I look forward to receiving the Commission's Report on the completion of its work which will inform media policy including print media.
I met Independent Broadcasters Ireland (IBI) on the 16th November where supports for the sector were discussed and a follow up meeting has taken place at official level. We will continue to engage with the sector and with the BAI, with a view to ensuring a shared understanding of the challenges they face, and in order to protect and sustain local broadcasting as a critical component of the media sector generally.
During 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) held two closed rounds for radio, targeted at the independent commercial and community radio sectors respectively.
In June 2020, the BAI awarded €2.5m Sound and Vision funding to 32 independent commercial radio stations across the country supporting public awareness and understanding of COVID-19. This was in addition to a waiver on the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector for Q1 and Q2 2020 which saved the sector €1m. I secured €0.839m in Budget 2021 to recoup the BAI for this levy waiver.
In addition, the BAI distributed €750,000 this year in a special round for the community radio sector.
The purpose of the Sound and Vision Scheme is to support eligible content across the broadcasting sector as a whole, ensuring a balanced and fair approach. In light of the ongoing challenges faced by the sector, I secured an additional €2m in exchequer funding for the Sound and Vision Scheme under the July Stimulus Package. This greatly enhanced the funding available for the final round of the Scheme this year (round 37), bringing its total value to €4.5m. This funding round is open to those elements of the radio sector that were not eligible for the rounds to commercial and community radio earlier in the year, namely public service radio and independent audio producers, working in partnership with commercial, community and public service radio stations. In addition, the round is open to independent audio-visual producers, and commercial, community and public service television stations .
I was pleased to note the impact the Government horizontal supports are continuing to have on substantially reducing the cost base for the commercial radio sector during the restrictions. A total of €4.3m has been received across the industry from the Government’s COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Support Scheme. Local radio has also been included in the Government’s current advertising campaign on resilience.
The BAI continue to report to me quarterly on the Impact of COVID-19 on Commercial Radio Sector. I recently received the quarter 3 report and I am pleased to note the small growth in advertising revenues in that quarter. However, I recognise that the current lockdown has again had a severe impact on the sector, especially at local level. The BAI will continue to report to me on a quarterly basis and the Q4 report will help give a picture of the overall impact on the range of supports for the year.
The BAI is currently finalising the most recent round and no decisions regarding 2021 rounds have been made as yet. It must be recognised that the BAI is a statutorily independent body. However, I am aware the BAI will be meeting with representatives of the commercial radio sector to discuss the approach to Sound and Vision in the New Year and I very much welcome that. I will continue to work closely with the BAI to see how we can best support the sector in the coming period.