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'The notion that RTÉ is the only public service broadcaster in the State is nonsense'

Give local radio the same chance to serve listeners, writes Brian Moss.

Brian Moss Freelance broadcaster

RURAL IRELAND IS undoubtedly going through its most difficult time since the foundation of the State. Indeed it seems to be battling for its mere survival more and more every day.

We hear much about the closures of family-run local shops, the death of the village pub and post office. But there is another bastion of rural Ireland that is under perilous threat, an institution which is part of the very fabric of our society: the local radio station, the very ideal of what public service broadcasting is all about.

What is public service broadcasting?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines public service broadcasting as:

Radio and television programmes broadcast by organisations that are independent of government but are financed by public money.

RTÉ’s commandeering of the term as the nation’s public service broadcaster for Ireland is nonsense and has been allowed to go unchallenged for far too long. The reality is that the day in 1989 when pirate stations were put on a legal footing and allowed legally to broadcast to their various localities ended RTÉ’s sole right to this title, despite its protestations ever since.

Public service broadcasting has nothing to do with content output but is in fact a reflection of a station’s funding model. It always amazes me when talking to people about the ins and outs of radio just how so many licence fee payers aren’t aware that not one red cent of their TV licence fee goes directly to their local radio station.

A typical day as a local reporter

To get a better understanding of just how essential local radio is, I have detailed a recent day I spent on the job as a local reporter. There was nothing particularly special about my to do list for the day in question, it was a very average day.

The point I hope to illustrate is just how, on a daily basis, local radio stations the length of breath of the country are servicing their  listenership on shoestring budgets and yet when it comes to getting a portion of public funds for carrying out vital public service broadcasting they are not considered in the same vein as RTÉ.

On the job

It’s a Wednesday in early March, and my task today is to put together audio packages and unearth some local content for Today with Will Faulkner, Midlands 103’s award winning mid-morning news and current affairs show.

It’s a slow news day so the pressure is on. I start my morning in Bangher, a small town in Co Offaly, where I meet a local farmer in his front kitchen. Why was I there? Well, the farmer in question happened to be the proud owner of a hen named Marmalade who had just entered the Guinness book of records for giving birth to more chickens than other hen in history.

Quite a feat in itself, but this was only half the story. The secret of Marmalade’s reproductive prowess, according to her owner, was the morning horse-whispering ritual both farmer and hen engage in. Yes, the aforementioned farmer and hen spend five minutes every morning talking to each other which apparently results in improved fertility for Marmalade.

Naturally upon hearing this I was straight out to the chicken pen, recorder in hand to witness this husbandry phenomenon. I got a good five minutes of audio so was off to a good start.

Moving on to Laois

This next interview couldn’t have been more different. I crossed the border to Co Laois where I sat down drinking tea with a young Portlaoise family, who had just been given the word that the HSE had agreed to fund their 12-year-old daughter’s course of the Cystic Fibrosis wonder drug Orkambi.

The family had been fighting for years to get State funding for the drug and the mood in the house was of unbridled joy. We recorded a poignant interview with mum, dad and daughter.

I finished my day at a Brexit Conference held in Portlaoise. Along with local business people the key note speaker was Tánaiste Simon Coveney and MEP for the area and Vice President of The European Parliament Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness.

The conference lasted three hours and I managed to get a word with the Tánaiste and McGuinness for our morning bulletins. I arrived home just after midnight - time to start editing the day’s work.

Keeping it local

I don’t want a pat on the back. My job isn’t an onerous one, in fact the opposite is true.  The variety of people and stories you meet and learn about each day, and the sheer randomness of situations you find yourself in is one of the great joys of local radio.

No, the snapshot is to give an illustration of the vital public service local radio stations are carrying out across the country on a daily basis without any licence fee funding to support it. The point I hope to make is that the notion that RTÉ, a notion it is happy to propagate, is the only public service broadcaster in the State is nonsense.

The vast majority of issues and stories covered at local radio level would simply never see the light of day if it were left to RTÉ to cover them. I’m not suggesting it should cover the parochial nature of some of the content on local radio, and the point of this article is certainly not to join in what seems the national pastime of lambasting RTÉ.

My plea

I have this plea for those who claim they are the guardians of public service broadcasting in our country: Give local radio the same chance to serve listeners. Give us the funding to bring much needed new, diverse voices, programmes and ideas to our listeners and join the campaign to immediately legislate for a statutory right for local radio broadcasters to a portion of the TV licence fee.

The revenue generated from the reading of the deaths should no longer be one of the few things keeping local radio alive.

Brian Moss is a freelance Radio Broadcaster with Midlands 103 Radio.

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About the author:

Brian Moss  / Freelance broadcaster

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