RTÉ at war with newspapers over online activities

10 Sep 2010

Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ has bitterly dismissed as “flawed”, “unrealistic” and “impractical” a call by National Newspapers of Ireland to call for its online services to be constrained and has told them to begin working on their own online activities instead.

RTÉ was responding to a submission by the National Newspapers of Ireland to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD to constrain the broadcasters’ online activities.

“The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) call for RTÉ’s normal online services to the public to be constrained by Government is impractical, inaccurate and regressive and is based on a fundamentally flawed view of online activity in Ireland, of RTÉ’s dual funding model and of the development and control of the internet worldwide,” RTÉ said last night in a statement.

The broadcaster said the “unrealistic” and “unfair” demand implies that the lack of a successful online strategy by newspapers might in some way be RTÉ’s fault “rather than that such failure might more likely be caused by factors like for example poor board/management decision-making and/or the lack of commitment to the development of online activities within individual newspaper companies over the past number of years.

“In doing so, it also serves to distract from the from the very real challenges which the present difficult environment presents to all media organisations.”

RTÉ said that over the past five years the broadcaster has, in a structured and very deliberate manner, developed the successful RTÉ.ie website.

“RTÉ.ie was developed through a pragmatic combination of technical innovation, progressive management and careful investment within the RTÉ Publishing division. Critically, all of this activity has been financed entirely using commercial funding sources without recourse to public subvention of any kind.

Operating costs

As disclosed in RTÉ’s Published 2009 Annual Report, RTÉ Online incurred operating costs of €5.6m which amounted to circa 1.4pc of total RTÉ Group Operating Costs. RTÉ’s Online revenues represented some 1.4pc of total RTÉ Group Commercial Revenue in 2009. The broadcaster said that neither Independent News and Media Plc or the Irish Times currently disclose the amount of revenues their online activities produce.

“RTÉ does not use licence fee funds to fund its online activity, which is operated within a separate business unit, RTÉ Publishing. All RTÉ Online activity, including the very substantial costs required to re-purpose programme content – audio, video and text – into online form, is funded from other RTÉ commercial activities and revenue sources.

“The protectionist logic which seems to underpin the NNI submission in effect proposes that, having paid a TV licence which contributes towards the generation by RTÉ, for example of news content, that the public should then be censored/prohibited from accessing such content in online form from RTÉ on their PCs, laptops, phones and other digital devices.

“RTÉ believes this logic is untenable, anti-competitive, perverse and defies rational analysis in the context of a modern, open, digital economy. RTÉ’s operation of online services is of a type provided by public service broadcasters throughout Europe,” the broadcaster said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years