The publisher of Mediahuis Ireland, Peter Vandermeersch, has hit out at RTÉ and claimed the broadcaster’s privileged position within the Irish media is, “Killing a little bit the entrepreneurship of the sector”.
Mediahuis Ireland, which in 2019 purchased Independent News and Media, originates from Belgium and Mr Vandermeersch said the group was “amazed at the power of RTÉ” in Ireland.
“Everywhere you have public services but here in Ireland RTÉ is protected in a very strong way and sometimes it’s killing a little bit the entrepreneurship of the sector," he told Taking Stock.
“But it’s [something] we knew when we came here”.
The Government has commissioned a report into the future of media in Ireland and Mr Vandermeersch said he hoped it would recommend “a playing field that is level”.
“I’m an advocate for strong public players but strong public players shouldn’t harm the private players.
“Here we see a market in which RTÉ gets lots of money from the Government and gets lots out of the advertising market… And you have the strange situation for most markets in Europe, where people start in public [media] services and when they really want to make money they go to the private sector.
“Here in Ireland, people start with private players and when they really want to make money, they go to RTÉ! It shows that the market is not functioning as it should.
“So we hope that from that report… that the Government tries not to be a Government of RTÉ… [so we can] create a level playing field in which Newstalk, The Independent, RTÉ can all have their role.”
Mr Vandermeersch feels that the Irish Government should not be advertising as much as it does with RTÉ:
“In Belgium for example, there are very strict restrictions about advertising on the public service. Here, for people, like me… It’s very strange to see in the middle of the nine o’clock news [the Government] advertising on public television. Public television shouldn’t do these things. Public television should probably be paid for by the taxpayer and then leave the advertising market to the private players.”
Future of digital
Mr Vandermeersch also predicted that the digital news market would continue to eclipse the print market.
“I still believe digital is the future. We shouldn’t forget print. We [Mediahuis Ireland] still have The Sunday Independent, today more than 500,000 Irish people are reading The Sunday Independent - that’s quite something!
“Print will stay there, definitely on Saturdays and Sundays. We know how it works at the breakfast table with your partner, you have the papers with all the supplements and the coffee and the croissants, it’s a wonderful experience.”
Mr Vandermeersch concluded:
“For centuries, people wanted it [news] on paper. Now, definitely the people under 45 or 50, want it on their mobile phones. And on the weekend, they want it more and more in podcasts.
“So we really have to balance that whole transition and how long it is, the seven days a week paper, I can’t say… Somewhere at the end of the road, print will disappear, definitely Monday to Friday, and be replaced by digital.”
Main image: A newspaper stand in Newbridge. Picture by: RollingNews.ie