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The role of RTÉ's commercial rivals in potential land sale

Updated: Feb 23

The reduction or elimination of state broadcasting services, has in fact been flagged by Fine Gael since 2019. A report in the Irish Times stated that there would be no licence fee increase without unspecified ‘reform’.

What this reform entails is speculation, but some issues have been raised, again by RTE's media rivals - the same rivals who were were prominent in broadcasting the RTE crisis throughout June and July. This also worked to erase more politically destructive scandals for the Government. These private media organisations are also busy circulating details about the RTE crisis and its ongoing consequences.

In 2015, in a briefing document prepared for the then-communications Minister Denis Naughten, it was stated that RTE had severe “financial challenges” which included further losses of licence fees and advertising. The review noted the option of introducing a broadcasting charge instead of the licence fee due to high evasion rates, this option remains on hold.

Minister Naughten in foreground of image.
Minister Denis Naughten in 2016. EU2016 SK on

Also in 2015, the Irish Independent - another commercial rival of RTE - reported that the Government was considering linking any funding changes to a board approved land sale and that the RTE board should consider selling its Donnybrook headquarters. "Work on this area is on hold pending any policy commitments that may arise in the context of the new programme for government,” says the briefing from "top [Communications] department officials."

In 2016, a Government policy briefing indicated that, with regard to RTE's land portfolio, the 30-acre Donnybrook campus is worth "many millions of euro." The briefing asserted that if Donnybrook was sold it could go far towards to meeting future funding demands.

However, the operational policy New-ERA review (2013) clearly indicated that capital spending and revenue from a proposed land sale should be regarded as separate. The demand that sale of the Donnybrook headquarters is index-linked to future funding would therefore seem to be political rhetoric - at the least - given that Fine Gael propose to fund private media organisations via the proposed broadcasting charge.

In 2015, then-communications Minister Alex White published a review of the broadcaster's finances and assets in the wake of a fall in advertising revenue since the 2008 recession. This review indicated that RTE had substantially recovered from its losses at that point.

In 2016, a Department of Communications briefing on future public broadcasting policy, then-Communications Minister Denis Naughten declared that the existing problem was "to address the long-term, sustainable funding of the Irish broadcasting sector and, in particular, the position of public sector broadcasting".

What "sustainable funding" of the state broadcaster is, the Government notably chooses not to explain. The Government has ample resources to fund RTÉ. The RTÉ executive board appointed Director-Generals had Governmental approval. The current incumbent promptly reappointed the old executive board as an interim 'team.' The question should be whether this is under departmental instruction.

The mandate to implement the Government's pre-determined land sale is clear. This effort to privatise and divest the state broadcasting centre to a bloated and dysfunctional property industry is the real scandal in RTÉ.

Next: more on RTÉ including the role of RTÉ's rival media organisations in creating the "crisis".

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