Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 14 Nov 2000

Vol. 525 No. 5

Priority Questions. - Television Licence Fee.

Deirdre Clune


96 Ms Clune asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage Gaeltacht and the Islands the criteria she will use to assess whether she will provide for a television licence fee increase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25621/00]

Miss de Valera

Section 16 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, sets out the general functions of the RTE Authority. Section 17 of that Act, as amended by section 13 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, sets out RTE's general duty with regard to its programming. These two sections form the basis of RTE's statutory public service remit.

I am on record, here and in European Union fora, as saying that the argument for maintaining and supporting a strong public service broadcasting service is stronger today than ever. I am also on record as saying that while I fully support the concept of public service broadcasting, as we have known it, this does not mean that nothing should change. New technologies offer the opportunity to do things more efficiently. In the current financial year, licence fee revenue accruing to RTE will be in excess of £67 million. Not unreasonably, licence holders must be reassured that the licence fee revenue is well spent and that the authority meets its statutory obligations in the most cost-effective manner.

It is, therefore, vital that RTE constantly reviews its own approaches and practices, which, even if they were appropriate in the past, may not be appropriate for the challenges of the present and future. In the new, highly competitive environment, the television licence payer ought not be expected to subsidise out-of-date approaches and practices. It is my intention to review the application for a licence fee increase in this context.

In her reply, the Minister said that licence fee payers will be reassured, but how does she intend to reassure them? At the moment there is not enough accountability and transparency as to how the licence fee is spent. The Minister also mentioned out-of-date practices. Will she elaborate on that comment?

Miss de Valera

All these issues have to be examined in an era of new technology which offers great opportunities to do things much more efficiently. We have to look not only at the licence fee but also at the workings of RTE and every other organisation that benefits from public funds, to ensure the utmost efficiency, which is obviously expected of them. We are talking about public moneys which we must ensure are spent in the most efficient and effective manner.

The approach that has been taken by RTE is certainly more accessible to the reader who would be interested in knowing exactly how moneys are spent within that organisation. RTE's annual reports can be found by any public representative in the Oireachtas Library.

When we are examining whether an increase in the licence fee is warranted, we look carefully at any submission made by RTE. I was given a formal outline application on 5 October. Further information, including much more detailed documentation, came to my office on 31 October. I am looking at that proposal and I am most concerned to have an objective and independent evaluation of it. We all know the tremendous competition that exists in the broadcasting sector, and we also know the tremendous level of high standards and high quality work that RTE produces. We would obviously wish that to continue. It is axiomatic that the organisation charged with delivering this service is adequately funded as well as being properly organised. I am sure each Member of the House will agree with me on that point.

The Minister mentioned the words "efficient" and "effective", but is she satisfied that at present the licence fee funding is spent in such a manner? What procedures will be put in place so that we can review RTE's spending? The Minister said that documents are available in the Oireachtas Library, but is she happy that the information in those documents is transparent and appears there in total?

Miss de Valera

With regard to the efficiency of RTE, the company has taken into account the need to reassess its organisation. It is important for every organisation to do so from time to time. Restructuring in RTE is a matter for that company and not for me, as Minister. Everyone knows that work is continuing to be carried out to make that organisation even more efficient. RTE is engaged in a cost-cutting exercise at present and I understand it hopes to reduce the numbers employed in the station by 330 by 2003.

With regard to the other issue the Deputy mentioned, it is standard practice for such information to be made available. We are talking about public funds and RTE has gone to great lengths to ensure there is more transparency and accessibility.

Next question.

May I ask just one more question?

No, we must move on because we have exceeded the time for that question.