RTÉ in talks with Google over payment for its content, but household broadcast fee may be boycotted

RTE is in talks with Google to receive payment for its content, he said.

The national broadcaster’s chief executive, Dee Forbes, today informed the Public Accounts Committee of the contact with the international web giant.

Ms Forbes said the station was involved in finding a fair exchange value for its material.

It was not yet in discussion with Facebook, the largest social media platform, she said.

“There’s a difference between what Google plans and what Facebook plans,” she said.

“We have an ongoing dialogue with Facebook, but it’s a different kind of platform.” Google was “proposing” things, she added.

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD said RTE did not appear to have a plan B or plan C to cut costs, such as moving its base to the periphery or shutting down RTE 2 television to focus on RTE 1.

The Irish Independent, Irish Times and Virgin Media have not received state support, she noted when asked Ms Forbes about advertising revenue.

RTE rates are more expensive than Virgin Media, but slightly cheaper than in the UK, Ms Forbes said.

She didn’t have details on the rate card, she said, because it wasn’t within her day-to-day remit, but there were different circumstances and markets.

A boycott of any new domestic broadcast fee has been threatened as Ms Forbes told TDs the TV fee system is ‘completely broken’.

She said the evasion rate for the annual fee of €160 rose to 15.2% in 2020, while at the same time 15.1% of households no longer had a television, although they can stream to devices.

She said the shortfall in public service funding for the Donnybrook station amounted to €65million a year.

Ms Forbes said RTE was not asking for an increase in the license fee, which has not been increased since 2013. She said the station had instead advocated for reform of the collection system.

An increase in the annual fee, without maximizing collection and compliance, would be “unfair” to those paying, she said. But the point was that there was an indicated shortfall in license fee revenue.

Green TD Neasa Hourigan said the station’s funding would only serve populists, conspiracy theorists and the far right.

But Socialist Party TD Mick Barry has expressed opposition to a new domestic broadcast fee, saying its introduction would lead to “a major campaign of opposition and boycott”.

The Cork North Central TD instead supports a new tax on tech media giants as an alternative way to fund public broadcasting in the state.

“A new tax on tech media giants that have made incredible profits during the pandemic is the best way to increase funding for public broadcasting,” Barry said.

“A new domestic broadcast fee is totally the wrong way to go and would face a major campaign of opposition and boycott.”

While expressing his support for increased funding for RTE, he also called for a radical reform of the station with measures to cut the salaries of its highest earners.

He said there should be a greater distance between the station’s editorial positions and government and state policies.

Ms Forbes told Ms Hourigan that RTE could not currently provide information on the gender pay gap at Montrose, despite there being an equal number of men and women employed at the station.

The Green TD said RTE had made commitments as early as 2017 on gender pay, and not giving information was “absolutely a decision” of the institution. Ms Forbes said it would be available in the future when the legislation comes into force.

RTE’s top earners, its big stars, had salaries amounting to 1% of the cost base, she added.

RTE’s chief financial officer, Richard Collins, said that if it were to rely solely on commercial (advertising) revenue, then its production would be completely different.

About Matthew R. Dailey

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