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New broadcasting charge won’t be used to save ailing newspapers

Pat Rabbitte says the replacement for the TV licence needs to ensure minimal standards for RTÉ, and can’t save other media.

Pat Rabbitte reading newspapers at Labour's annual conference in 2007. Rabbitte says the public service broadcasting charge cannot be expected to try and save other forms of media.
Pat Rabbitte reading newspapers at Labour's annual conference in 2007. Rabbitte says the public service broadcasting charge cannot be expected to try and save other forms of media.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE PROPOSED REPLACEMENT to the TV licence – a mandatory broadcasting charge to pay for public service broadcasting – will not be used to help newspapers overcome their financial troubles.

In an exclusive interview with TheJournal.ie, communications minister Pat Rabbitte said that while the newspaper industry is in trouble, the new public service broadcasting charge needs to be ringfenced to ensure at least a minimum amount remains with RTÉ as the national broadcaster.

Once other national and local broadcasters are given a contribution to cover the costs of their public service programming, Rabbitte said, it was unlikely that any money would be made available to newspapers.

Last week, former Irish Times editor Conor Brady called on Rabbitte to undertake a programme similar to that operating in France, where it was agreed that major internet companies like Google would invest money back into the traditional media.

Speaking at the launch of the Press Ombudsman’s report, Brady said that while industries sometimes died, “the news industry is not like coalmining or car assembly, or turning out plastic buckets: it is an indispensable part of the democratic process.”

Others have called more explicitly for newspapers and other news outlets, including websites, to be given a share of the funding from the public service broadcasting charge on the basis of their important news output.

When TheJournal.ie put the proposal to Rabbitte, however, the minister seemed to rule out allowing newspapers or other media to share in the proceeds from the broadcasting charge, which he said should be ready for introduction “at some stage in 2014″.

“There has to be an irreducible minimum [of state funding for RTÉ],” he said.

Otherwise the notion that the public service broadcaster [...] is going to retain two orchestras, and is going to retain a significant emphasis on Irish culture, and is going to do investigative journalism, and so on… I think is just unrealistic.

While he said he had sympathy with the view that society “must preserve what is best in newspapers”, the notion of extending a broadcasting charge to fund the print media was “one that I would need to take some convincing on”.

“Pretty much everybody, except those concerned with the unfortunate fodder crisis, have made application to me to say they should be cut into the public service broadcasting charge.”

The minister had previously said that the charge, when first interested, would be no higher than the €160 annual fee currently charged for a TV licence – and that people who were currently exempt from TV licence requirements, such as old age pensioners, would remain exempted from its replacement.

Read: Independent radio stations praise calls for ‘broadcasting charge’

Column: I love RTÉ, but I don’t want an internet tax to pay for it

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