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John Purcell, chair of IBI, said most of its 34 members were close to shutdown during the pandemic. Oireachtas TV/PA

Independent radio stations came ‘critically close’ to shutting down, industry chief warns

An Oireachtas committee heard that revenue from local ads is down between 20% and 30%.

ALMOST ALL MEMBERS of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) came “critically close” to shutting down radio stations in the wake of the pandemic, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

John Purcell, chair of IBI, said most of its 34 members were at least a week away from closing and were saved only by Government funding.

Purcell told the Oireachtas media committee that the average operating cost of local radio stations is between €1.5 million and €2 million.

The committee heard that revenue from local ads is down between 20% and 30%.

Purcell said revenue has stopped because of the current “gloomier” Covid outlook, with many radio broadcasters looking ahead to next year with “great trepidation”.

He said the Government funding allowed radio stations to perform a “vital public service role”.

He added: “Without this, the damage caused to Irish society by the online conspiracy theorists, the peddlers of mis-information and the numerous bad actors who continue to be provided with a channel for their views by the social media and online platforms, would have been far worse.

“Frankly I shudder to imagine the consequences for local areas without the work of the dedicated men and women on stations all over the country had the misinformation gone unchallenged.”

He also told the committee he wants to see a report drawn up by the Future of Media Commission published. The report was tasked with exploring public service media funding.

“It was due in July and we’ve yet to see the light of day, our concern across is that this will drift to be just another report,” he added.

“There is equally a delay in the enactment of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and that is putting off the day when the damage being done by online harms can be addressed.

“It’s also creating uncertainty in our industry over regulation and licence renewal.

“So these are serious issues for us.

“We welcome suggestions of funding, but we have concern over timing and I think that action needs to be taken now because the speed of change on the ground, and broadcasting is very quick, but the speed of change in relation to the framework that we’ve been experiencing is glacial.”

Declan Gibbons, chair of the Community Radio Forum of Ireland, said the delay in enacting the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill means there is not a level playing field.

“It provides robust structures, and it means that we can stand over what we do, and I think that’s still completely lacking in the online sector,” Mr Gibbons added.

“Something needs to be done about that.

“There’s no sign of a level playing pitch at all. And the amount of revenue that’s heading online to an unregulated space is something that has to remain a concern for all media and for diversity.”

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