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Independent radio group to tell committee it 'cannot wait' for Media Commission to ensure its survival

Irish Secretary of the NUJ Séamus Dooley said that local and national media organisations were “on the brink of ruin”.

Image: Shutterstock/Nick Beer

“WE CANNOT WAIT that long,” is the message that a group representing local radio stations is to give to the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht this afternoon. 

John Purcell, chair of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland group, will tell committee members that the Covid-19 pandemic has created “severe threats” to broadcasters.

RTÉ and the Irish branch of the National Union of Journalists will also address the committee about the challenges faced by the media this year.

Media organisations have been struggling financially during the Covid-19 pandemic due to a dramatic fall in advertising spends that began during the first lockdown. 

As part of Budget 2021, the Future of Media Commission was set up to look into the future of media in Ireland. The Chair of the Commission will be Prof Brian MacCraith, former DCU President, and other  Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian; Mark Little, founder of Storyful; and Siobhan Holliman, the deputy editor of the Tuam Herald.

Independent radio stations

The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) represents radio stations such as 96FM, Beat 102-103, Q102, KFMRadio, Highland Radio, Radio Kerry, RedFM, SouthEastRadio, Tipp FM, and Northern Sound. 

IBI says that 70% of the Irish population, or 3.9 million people, listen to their stations on a daily basis, and that weekday figures of in excess of 2.5 million listeners.

In his opening statement, Purcell is expected to tell the Commiteee that although the MIBI welcomes the Future of Media Commission – to ensure the sustainability of media in a “rapidly changing landscape” – it can’t wait for the outcome.

Purcell understands that the Commission hearings, a report, the consideration of the report by the Committee and Oireachtas, the drafting, passing and implementation of legislation will not be completed until “at least the second half of 2022″.

“We cannot wait that long,” Purcell will tell the Committee.

You, the Government and the Minister cannot wait for the conclusion of the Commission on Media process to take action to ensure the survival of Irish broadcasting. If you do it will be too late for many.

A special €2.5 million fund was brought in for the broadcasting sector in the spring and summer to help deal with the financial shortfalls triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, but the IBI said these funds have ran out. 

NUJ propose 6% digital tax for  ’News Recovery Plan’

Séamus Dooley, the Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, is also expected to tell the Committee that the pandemic has “exposed the fragile state of the Irish media”.

The present crisis has shown just how vital it is to have a news media providing accurate information, how enthusiastic people are for trustworthy content and how essential it is that the government and authorities are held to account.

Dooley said that the fragile state of the media was a consequence of “under-investment by media organisations in editorial resources and the paucity of action by successive governments to protect public-interest journalism”.

Among other measures, the NUJ is proposing a ’windfall tax’ of 6% on the tech giants, using the UK Digital Services Tax model, towards funding a ‘News Recovery Plan’.

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The UK government committed to introducing a 2% Digital Services Tax from April on the revenues of large businesses providing internet search engines, social media
platforms and online marketplaces to UK users.

It’s also suggesting free vouchers for online or print subscriptions to over 70s and all 18-and-19-year-olds, as well as tax credits for households with subscriptions.

Director-General of RTÉ Dee Forbes is also due before the Oireachtas Commmitee today.

Forbes is expected to tell the committee of “a sharp drop in licence fee revenue and a decline in advertising revenue” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although that income has stabilised in the fourth quarter, Forbes is expected to say that the outlook for 2021 is uncertain due to Brexit and the scale of the economic recovery.

The Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht will begin the meeting at 2pm today. You can watch it on OireachtasTV.

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