NUJ slams Govt decision to reject broadcasting reforms

Statement by Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, National Union of Journalists on the publication of the report of the Future of Media Commission and the response of the Irish government to the report.

The National Union of Journalists has expressed grave disappointment at the decision of the Government to reject key recommendations of the Future of Media Commission and to instead commission yet another review of the public broadcasting licence system.

The NUJ said the report contains many worthwhile proposals and acknowledged the valuable work of the Commission.

In a statement following the launch of the report this morning Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, warned that the government’s failure to reform the licence fee system would have significant consequences for public service broadcasting. The decision has overshadowed the work of the Commission.

Séamus Dooley said: “The Commission has made a number of key recommendations and is worthy of in-depth analysis. Central to the Commissions’ recommendations are reform of the current funding system and the phasing out of the TV licence.

This proposal has been rejected by government without any public debate. While the Taoiseach has stressed support for 49 of the 50 recommendations of the Commission, the failure to immediately act upon the proposals in relation to reform of the funding system is profoundly disappointing.

The NUJ welcomes the imaginative approach to funding and the recognition of the importance of public interest journalism. The NUJ has long sought a media fund and believes there is a strong case for funding public service journalism across all platforms.

In this regard we would welcome clarification of new journalism schemes proposed by the Commission, including Democracy Reporters, News Reporting Schemes, Court Reporting Schemes, an Access and Training Scheme and a Community Media scheme. The NUJ will be seeking a role in the design of these schemes.

It would be untenable if media organisations which enforced redundancies were eligible for State funding and the NUJ will be demanding strict criteria governing funding applications.

If the current Sound and Vision fund is to be extended it is vital that applicants adhere to the highest standards of corporate governance, respect for employment rights and have a demonstrable record of adherence to statutory codes of practice.

Every proposal, from diversity and inclusion measures, the promotion of equality, the provision of services in multiple languages, including Polish, Lithuanian, Portuguese and Chinese, enhanced sports coverage and greater supports for Irish language broadcasting, have a price tag.

There is a great danger that may worthwhile initiatives in this comprehensive report will simply wither on the vine of political inertia.

The current funding system is simply not fit for purpose. The survival and development of public service broadcasting is vital for our democracy. Across the world we have seen attacks on public service broadcasting. The outgoing British Prime Minister made no secret for his disdain for the BBC.

We need to be vigilant in protecting our public service values and ensure that publicly funded media are appropriately governed and funded through a sustainable and stable model.

In Ireland we have witnessed an unwillingness to tackle the funding crisis at the heart of public service broadcasting. It is worth noting that a Commission was first mooted by the then Minister Richard Bruton in December 2019 with the intention of producing proposals to be ready in time for Budget 2021. Those proposals were to be published in September 2020.

That timescale illustrates the pace at which Government moves. The current government has been sitting on the Future of Media Commission for almost a year and it was due for publication last September. It beggars belief that the response is to have another review. While the government is entitled to reject the Commission report one has to ask why it has taken so long to do so and why they have not used the period since receiving the report to fully develop alternative proposals.

We are now told that another technical group will present a report in November 2022. This suggests a lack of urgency in the face of a major crisis.

While the NUJ welcomes the Commission’s suggestion for Central Exchequer Funding we would have the strongest reservations about placing RTÉ and TG4 under the control of the National Treasury Management Agency or NewERA.

The development of public service broadcasting will not be enhanced by further bureaucratic structures. The funding of public service broadcasting is a matter for central government, the management of RTÉ is a function of the board, which is answerable to government and the Oireachtas.

The imposition of NTMA and NewERA which already has a role as additional layers could have editorial and operational implications and the NUJ does not believe that the Future of Media Commission has made a case for this significant departure.

The NUJ would also be concerned at the extent to which the Commission envisages an expanded role and new powers for the Media Commission, which is to replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, making the Commission envisaged in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill an independent regulator with super-powers across all platforms.

There is a compelling case for a separate Media Training and Development Council. The NUJ does not believe that the BAI model, as a regulatory body, a licencing agency, a funding body and effectively a complaints ombudsman is a useful template.”