Presentation from Chair Designate RTÉ

Joint Committee on Transport and Communications
28th January 2015
RTÉ Chair-designate opening statement
Thank you Chairman for the invitation to appear before this
Committee today.
I am delighted and indeed honoured to have been asked by
Minister White and the Government to become Chairperson of
One of the reasons I was attracted to the role is the way in
which my own experience as a former Chair and a member of a
range of Boards, as a creative producer, as a business director
and entrepreneur, as a developer of new work across all media,
and most of all as an avid RTÉ consumer - now reflect the range
of skills necessary to be useful in the broadcast space.
It is no longer sufficient to think of the various aspects of the
media industries as separate - radio, television and so on because now each piece of the media jigsaw is closely
connected to the others in a kind of ecology where changes to
one will have an immediate impact on the others.
This is the media landscape which the rise of the internet has
brought us and all media must now think how they are filtered
through the online space.
This also means that, more than ever, RTÉ must remain central
to Irish life and public discourse and precisely because it holds
such a unique position, what it does, how it does it and the
framing of its future, are important to all of us.
As per your invitation, I am very happy to discuss with you how
I plan to approach my role and to set out my initial thoughts on
the key challenges currently facing RTÉ.
I would also like to give you some thoughts on the broader
creative and cultural sector of which RTÉ is key part both as
one of sector’s largest employers of creative talent and as a key
commissioner and producer of creative output.
The Role of the Board
The Broadcasting Act 2009 sets out, across a number of
articles, the role of the RTÉ Board.
As you would expect the Board has a key oversight role in
approving strategy and budgets. It has a role in relation to
quality of output, performance commitments, and in ensuring
efficiency and effectiveness.
The Board must safeguard the independence of the
organisation from state, political and commercial interests.
But perhaps most crucially of all, the role of the Board is to
represent the interests of audiences. I believe that RTÉ,
perhaps more than any other organisation, plays a key role in
helping shape the Irish public’s perception of their place in the
For me, as the national broadcaster, RTÉ must first and
foremost aim to connect with, be relevant to, and be trusted by
Irish people.
As you know, the new Board is not yet complete. The
Committee’s nominees have not yet joined, but will do so in
Overall, I believe that we have a mix and range of exceptional
experience and skill-set among the new Board members, those
already appointed and those who will join shortly, to be highly
I am very conscious that RTÉ engages in a broad range of
activities in pursuit of its public service objects. The Board must
and will consider the whole of what RTÉ does and its
overarching responsibilities as it considers changes, strategies
and initiatives from management.
I am convinced that the role of the Board is at all times to
provide guidance and support to management where possible
and, of course, to challenge when appropriate.
Central to all our deliberations and engagements will be
audiences. Representing the interests of viewers and listeners
is, in my view, our first responsibility.
In your own work as a Committee you will have seen that
audiences and audience behaviour is changing rapidly. Enabled
by new technology and much faster connectivity, people can
now access programming and content from anywhere in the
world on their phones, tablets, computers and televisions.
But audiences are not uniform, people of different ages and in
different geographic locations are doing different things. Some
are adapting to new technologies quickly whereas others at a
much slower pace. Audience habits also vary hugely by
programme type, with live consumption of radio and key
television programming such as news, sport, and big
entertainment shows, remaining a dominant trend.
The role of the Board is to represent the interests of all these
audience types. The Board already has an example of how we
are doing this with the decision before Christmas to slow down
the speed of the transition from Long Wave Radio transmission
to digital services.
Understanding changes in audience behaviour and making use
of a variety of data sources on how audiences are changing is
essential for any media organisation today. It is perhaps even
more important for public service media which is obliged to
meet the needs of all audiences across the range of its services.
This doesn’t mean programming being driven solely by
statistical numbers and audience ratings; RTÉ’s mission is much
broader than that. But it does mean making decisions informed
by an analysis of the patterns in audience and industry trends.
The sophisticated use of data in this way allows a body like RTÉ
to illustrate very clearly the impact it is having on both
economic and social capital.
Digital Media
Just as new digital technology is changing audience habits so
too is it challenging the business models and strategies of
traditional media companies.
My initial observation is RTÉ, through the launch of numerous
digital services over the past few years, has to date managed to
largely keep pace with changing technology. In some areas,
such as the recently launched GAAGO product I think RTÉ has
been a real innovator in this market.
I am very conscious that in the area of news in particular,
changing technology is having the biggest impact of all. While
TV news bulletins continue to retain very large audiences,
particularly in the evening, people are increasingly getting their
news on mobile devices from digital news services. News,
however, is one of the key pillars in the creation of a national
identity, and the Board must ensure that a full overview of the
events central to Irish life, locally and globally, is freely
available to all at key moments in the day.
Fundamentally then the drive to an online presence has two
key components:
• the
provision of an anywhere anytime access for the audience
• the creation of high quality platform-neutral content which
can be adapted to suit the relevant broadcast medium
Irish Culture
Given the explosion of stations/providers over the last ten
years, and the apparent dominance of externally produced
content (particularly USA content), the role of RTÉ in framing
and representing the culture of Ireland becomes even more
This doesn’t mean developing a representation of Irish culture
which is essentialist or monolithic. The cultural framing offered
by RTÉ should reflect the diversity of our national identity and
strive to place Ireland in a global context.
It doesn’t involve seeing externally created programming as
some form of ‘cultural imperialism’, but viewing the best of it
as a marker for the creation of RTÉ programming and content
which can compete and represent Ireland on external
platforms across the globe.
This is an area where I have some experience and I know that
all good cultural content comes through a process of
appropriation of the best. This will involve collaboration with
willing partners in other states. If RTÉ does not do this, no one
else will.
Love/Hate illustrates what is possible here. As indeed does
Radio 1’s Documentary on One, which is recognized as one the
best radio documentary strands anywhere in the world.
RTÉ and Creative Economy
While I worked inside RTÉ for a period, for the last 20 years or
so, I have been a producer in the cultural and media area. Over
that time I have had the opportunity to observe RTÉ from the
Like many people in the creative sector I have had my
frustrations with RTÉ but more than anything I came to
understand the importance of the relationship between RTÉ
and the wider creative industries.
While much public debate often revolves around News and
Current Affairs, within the creative sector RTÉ’s role is
essential. In the most difficult years of the global economy the
creative industries has been one of the few growth areas,
showing, at 10%, three times the growth of any other industry
and, in the UK context, creating £8.8 million pounds sterling an
hour for the economy. In the Irish context the growth rate has
been averaging plus 3 % each year since 2003.
RTÉ is this sector’s largest direct employer. It is the largest
commissioner of independent television productions, it
provides crucial opportunities for actors, writers, and other
creative professionals to supplement their work in theatre and
film, and it is the country’s largest employer of musicians.
When RTÉ focuses on and supports cultural events, whether it
be Culture Night, the Ploughing Championships or the Young
Scientist & Technology Exhibition, it helps drive audiences,
enthusiasm and energy to those events.
The creative sector in Ireland has critical co-dependencies. For
example, RTÉ needs a thriving independent production sector if
it is to produce creative, challenging and high quality
programming. The independent sector needs RTÉ as the key
commissioner, funder and broadcaster of Irish made
One way into this debate is through a report produced in the
UK for the Government; the Work Foundation by Will Hutton
entitled Staying Ahead: The Economic performance of the
Creative Industries (2007). This seminal document outlines the
importance of the creative industries to the economy while
examining the most successful creative industries and
companies. It illustrates the stages by which creative
expression becomes economic product, a process at which RTÉ
must be the centre.
As with many other sectors, the recession has been hugely
damaging to whole creative sector in Ireland. Public funding
and commercial income in the cultural sector has fallen
substantially over the past five years.
RTÉ’s funding position, and subsequent capacity to invest in the
broader creative sector, has been hugely diminished. While RTÉ
has reduced its costs to adjust for huge falls in commercial
income and public funding, these cost reductions have rippled
through the entire creative sector.
RTÉ’s investment in the independent television sector, for
example, has reduced from over €75 million in 2008 to under
€40 million in 2013, mirroring similar large reductions in inhouse production. In television drama, a key area of
employment in the sector, RTÉ’s total spend has halved over
same the period.
RTÉ has the capacity to be a key engine for growth in the Irish
creative sector. To achieve this potential however RTÉ needs
much more certainty on its funding, public funding in
By way of starting a dialogue there are questions we both need
to ask. Questions such as to what is happening with the Public
Service Media Charge?
Why is it that Ireland has one of the most inefficient and
ineffective licence fee systems of anywhere in Western
Why is it acceptable that over €30 million is lost every year to
licence fee evasion when the sector as a whole is crying out for
investment, and our culture is increasingly being diluted with
more and more UK and US programming?
I hope that over the course of my time as Chair of RTÉ that
some of these questions can be addressed.
Thank you Chairman, I am very happy to answer any questions
the Committee may have.