Noel Curran’s Home Truths

The recent Competition Authority ruling (discussed previously by our CEO Ciaran Cunningham) which has resulted in RTÉ’s decision to abandon its practice of share dealing (or offering discounts based on the share advertisers give them of overall TV budgets), is almost certainly going to create more focus in 2012 on how public service broadcasting should be funded. RTÉ’s Director General Noel Curran had some interesting views on the very subject in his lecture to DCU’s School of Communications on 17th October last.

The speech made more headlines for his stated intention to shave 30 per cent off the salaries of RTE’s top talent. But there was much more than that. In a wide-ranging talk that painted a very vivid picture of the competitive media landscape, Curran made some solid arguments in favour of Public Broadcasting or “Public Media”, as he said it should now be termed.

“Nothing in Ireland bridges the worlds of information and culture, or operates with greater trust and popularity, than does Public Broadcasting”. While accepting that other broadcasters also provide a public service content in part too, they engage in it, he said, “because it suits their legitimate profit motive, either in terms of advertising return or as part of a case to access public funding.”  That’s fine, but it perhaps came across as belittling the efforts of independent broadcasters, at both national and local level, who provide this ‘public service’ output for the very reason that some audiences are not getting it from RTÉ and have shown that they can generate commercial revenue from it without compromising its integrity, quality or acceptability.

Curran forcefully translated the doublespeak of competitors who make the case that licence fee money should only be spent on “programmes that the market will not provide” were essentially saying that RTÉ should just “do whatever doesn’t make money for us.” To be fair, he has a point here because that has been largely the unspoken sentiment of various privately-owned media since the launch of the independent sector over the last twenty years ago, even though the ground rules were known to them when taking up commercial licences.

Given the parlous state that the Irish nation and our collective psyche is in at the moment, it is hard not to find some sympathy for the RTÉ DG’s belief that there is “a need for a publicly-owned media service with a strong Irish voice”. RTÉ can be accused of ignoring the effect of its commercial behaviour on the broader media landscape but a weakened RTÉ is almost certainly not in the interests of Irish businesses, brands, audiences and if the truth be told, their indigenous competitors too.

Read the full text of Noel Curran’s lecture here.

As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below.

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