"bringing people together, clarifying and empowering through the unique position that public media inhabits"
2020, the year of the pandemic, was a year of contrasts. While we were finding ways to negotiate the difficulties and family tragedies the virus wrought, we also saw the emergence of new forms of thinking, new ideas, new ways to communicate and new forms of community partnership.
The media became a vital source of information; indeed, during the worst periods of lockdown it was a constant companion. It gives me great pride that the audience data for the period shows that RTÉ was at the heart of successive national moments throughout the year, bringing people together, clarifying and empowering through the unique position that public media inhabits.
The pandemic also encouraged RTÉ to examine its operating structures and to design new and crisis-efficient modes of delivery. With the backing of the Board, RTÉ continued in its plan to stabilise the organisation’s finances, and we continued to assess RTÉ’s remit, seeking to maintain the best possible portfolio of services and content for audiences in Ireland in the context of declining funding and revenues. This thinking contributed to a renewed and more urgent conversation about public service media. The arguments for the sustenance, protection and patronage of public media took on a real-time and real-world resonance as a result of the pandemic.
While Covid-19 accelerated opportunities for change and digitalisation, it also exacerbated the challenges for impartial and independent journalism. As we assess a changed landscape, and consider the economic, editorial and creative implications for public service media, it is crucial to ensure that our audiences, our legislators and our regulators understand the critical role of public media in times of national need, and the Board remains committed to this goal. To survive, public media must continue to adapt. In many ways, on the cusp of a post-Covid world, the transformation has only just started.
With this at the forefront of our minds, the work of the Future of Media Commission comes at a most critical time for Irish public service media. The outcome of this review will determine the future footprint of public service media for the next generation and will shape the future RTÉ. We continue to engage with the Commission and look forward to the conclusion of their review in 2021.
Sadly, the RTÉ family was visited with its own tragedies in 2020. This time last year, reflecting on the sad passing of Gay Byrne, I said that his public service to the nation was indisputable. The same must now be said of Marian Finucane, of Larry Gogan and of Keelin Shanley, whose remarkable achievements in their service to us as citizens, and to our nation, say so much about the unique character and place of public service media in all our lives.
2020 was the year when empathy and connection emerged once more as defining elements and differentiators for public service media. Our audiences showed us, perhaps more clearly than ever, what they value and what they need from their national broadcaster. We will continue to evolve and adapt to meet that need, and will build stronger once the crisis has passed to ensure that our long patience as a nation has its just reward.