Report: media expert says issues around funding of public media still to be discussed in conversation about RTÉ and its future

When asked about the potential sale of RTÉ's Montrose site, RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst told the Oireachtas Committee on Media yesterday that "all options are on the table - full sale, partial sale and doing nothing". Bakhurst said he's moved decisively and quickly to address clear procedural and oversight failings in the organisation and staff have been told of an immediate recruitment freeze as well as spending cutbacks. This comes as RTÉ faces a deficit of €28 million this year.

But are we any closer to getting a complete picture of the crisis? Eileen Culloty from the DCU Future of Journalism Institute joined RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland to discuss this issue. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been edited for length and clarity - you can hear the discussion in full above).

Culloty believes we've got a complete picture "to a point. I think it's important to understand that there are two core issues here and they have different areas of responsibility. On the one hand there's the issue around RTÉ's governance and we've heard an awful lot about those failings and the Oireachtas Committee is absolutely right to investigate that and to demand reform," she says.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Director General Kevin Backhurst announces immediate recruitment freeze at RTÉ

"But on the other hand, there's this much bigger issue that's been debated for over 10 years now and is the responsibility of government: to come up with a funding plan for public media in Ireland. Is it a license fee? Is it a levy? Who pays it? What is it for? And that hasn't happened. So we're in this bizarre situation where RTÉ is expected to reform itself - as it should - and come up with some strategic framework, but not have any clarity about its interim funding or what the long term vision is. I think that's a failure on the politicians part."

Has the conversation about funding RTÉ stopped because of governance issues?

"It appears so. There have been reports, there was an entire Future of Media Commission, before that there were reports, now we've heard of technical reports, and none of this is very transparent," says Culloty. "If we're talking about the future of RTÉ - I think Kevin Bakhurst put it very clearly yesterday - when what's at stake here is the future of public broadcasting in Ireland, that could be some different vision of RTÉ, whatever it is.

"That's the point we're talking about. That debate needs to be had in public and the public, if they are going to pay for it, need to have greater understanding of what's at stake. Instead, there's a lot of political sound bites and not very constructive commentary that isn't having that that bigger discussion."

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Chair of Oireachtas Media Committee says RTÉ shouldn't get 'one red cent' until all questions are answered

Is there a "tone of vengeance" from some political quarters?

"I think, unfortunately, some members of the committee and some other politicians have shown that they don't fully understand what public service media is and what it's supposed to do. Every EU member state is asked to guarantee the provision of a public media service that covers news, culture, education and entertainment. We can all debate, as we should, whether RTÉ does that and how it could do it better."

Whose job is it to explain what public service media is?

"There needs to be more of a public debate. Because I don't think the public either has a good understanding of what public service media is," says Culloty. It's "partly" the job of RTÉ, DG, Minister for Media Catherine Martin and Government.

"I think it's the job of all of us and also academics who study media, the job of education. Because when we're talking about the future of public media, we're also talking about how is Irish culture promoted? How are Irish production companies going to put their content online? How is Ireland going to cover the upcoming referendum, the local elections, the European elections? All of these things."

Read more: How is public service media funded across Europe?

It's "very easy" to have a conversation about "slimming down RTÉ," says Culloty. "We also need to be very clear about what that means and what do we want. Engaging with young people, I think, is a huge part of the discussion about what should RTÉ be into the future."

How are young people engaging with what's happening in RTÉ?

"There's two interesting points to make about young people: one is very obvious, that most of what they consume is online and digital. The second is, when you talk to people about what the point of public media is they can understand why something should exist even if they don't us it themselves," she says.

"You mightn't consume children's programming, [but] you understand why educational children's programming is a valuable thing. So we shouldn't assume that just because young people don't consume RTÉ that they don't value it. But the argument has to be made to them."

"The second part is that the NewERA funding - the Future of Media Commission recommended that RTÉ be brought under NewEra so it would have more financial oversight, as it should - but that was in the context of RTE being given a massive capital investment for digital transformation. Now we have the oversight part, but that digital transformation aspect isn't there. How is it going to fund it if there's no support clearly put forward from government for that?"

How should RTÉ be funded into the future?

Culloty believes we need "proper, guaranteed funding over a number of years. That could be a levy. That could also look at a levy on to most of the major online services, like Netflix, which is something that the Danes have done. That money goes not just to RTÉ, but to the Irish media sector, so ultimately we tell Irish stories to ourselves".