The RTÉ controversy has been “overcooked and overdone” and it is not surprising to see more people failing to pay their licence fee, according to former communications minister Pat Rabbitte.
New figures show TV licence fee renewals fell 27% in the first week of July as the country was in the midst of controversy over RTÉ’s finances.
The figures released to Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin show that some 3,428 fewer households renewed their licence fee in the first week of July compared to the same time last year.
Meanwhile, there was a 40% fall in new licence sales compared to the same time last year.
June only saw a 2% decline in licence fee sales with much of the controversy playing out this month.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Mr Rabbitte said the figures are “serious but probably not all that surprising” – noting that even the Media Minister Catherine Martin failed to warn people to pay their licence fee when asked if she would do so during the controversy.
He said it’s hard to say whether the drop in payments will continue through the year, noting, “Maybe some rationality will return to the debate”.
“We have overdone, overcooked the controversy,” he said.
“You know, you would think it was the end of RTÉ as an institution to listen to some of the debate.
“It is not the end. The issue is, how do we fund public service broadcasting?
"It would appear that a great majority of people are persuaded that public service broadcasting is a public good, that it is a cornerstone of our democracy and that we do need an independent space to hold a national conversation.”
He said it is essential that Ireland can promote our “unique history, culture, games and politics”.
“We need a space where we can have that national conversation and by and large, Irish radio has been good at that,” he said.
“The proposition that it is the end of the world and that, you know, we are not going to be able to reconstruct RTÉ as well as the network of other radio stations, including local stations, that are there, I think, is over the top.”
Mr Rabbitte said anyone who believes public service broadcasting is a cornerstone of our democracy, must agree that we have to pay for it.
He said there are three main ways to do that – and he continues to favour the introduction of public broadcasting charge levied on every household in the country.
“There are those who argue for State funding – which seems to me, maybe, we can regulate that, but it seems to me to reduce RTÉ to the status, potentially, in times of crisis, to being an arm of Government,” he said.
“Then you can have the ad hoc arrangement we have at the moment and have had now for too long of, where it is, ‘We will give you a grant to bail you out if you can’t make the sums add up at the end of the year’ – and that really is disastrous and insufficient.
“Or you can somehow revive the concept of a public broadcasting charge that will bring in revenue and will assist the great expansion of the sound and vision fund to enable others in the independent space to bid into it for programme making.”
About 85% of the €160 licence fee goes to RTÉ, with 7% going to the Sound & Vision fund that goes towards projects on different outlets.
- RTÉ One gets €58 from every licence fee
- RTÉ Two gets €31.21
- RTÉ RADIO ONE gets €13.40
- RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta gets €8.33
- Lyric FM gets €4.79
- RTÉ performing groups get €9.26
- RTÉ support for TG4 is €6.39
- TG4 itself gets €6.71
- Broadcasting Authority Levy is €1.79
- The Sound & Vision fund gets €10.53
- Collection costs come to €9.62