I left this comment on a piece by Noel Curran, director general of RTÉ, in today’s Irish Times, titled ‘Undermining RTÉ would not serve public interest‘.
One of the problems that RTE will encounter in articulating its case is the fact that it has done so little to articulate precisely what function a public service media organisation ought to perform, by contrast with a commercial media enterprise such as those owned by Denis O’Brien or Rupert Murdoch.
Turn on your radio each Sunday and what you hear is a perspective on the world that identifies with the interests of wealth and power, and refuses to recognise any kind of conflict between the interests of the general public and the interests of the powerful, barring the occasional excesses of the odd oligarch.
It is not just that RTE has ‘adapted to a new reality’: it has set about fashioning a new one, with every cut to public spending in order to pay off private banking debts presented as a self-evident necessity with only token voices of dissent, in keeping with the priorities of a right-wing government and Ireland’s business elites, whose spokespersons seem never more than six feet away from an RTE microphone.
It would be hard to disagree with the need for a ‘strong and distinctive indigenous voice’ and an ‘indigenous perspective on the world’. However, all too frequently on RTE, ‘indigenous’ equates most closely to ‘IBEC’, or perhaps ‘Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil’, (and occasionally even ‘Opus Dei’ when it comes to matters of religious controversy) and not the population that funds RTE through payment of the TV licence. The strikingly deferential coverage of the visits of the Queen and Barack Obama, and the awestruck coverage of the appointment of Pope Francis, are useful illustrations of the gulf between the independent public spirit that RTE aspires to embody, and the rather more servile reality. When it comes to the question of funding for public service broadcasting, public debate needs to be a great deal more deliberative and participative than what we have come to expect from the public broadcaster. That does not mean doing away with RTE, or subsidising Denis O’Brien, but it does need a fundamental re-assessment of what constitutes public service media.