RTÉ Six One News anchor Bryan Dobson yesterday gave his inaugural lecture as Adjunct Professor of Public Service Broadcast Journalism at the University of Limerick.

In an hour-long seminar Mr Dobson said that his hope as adjunct professor was to “enrich” the educational experience of journalism students at the university. He said the task of media is to “facilitate illumination rather than agitation.”

 

In a speech centred primarily on “old media” and the work of US broadcaster Edward R Murrow, the RTÉ news anchor stressed the importance of television and radio as traditional forms of public broadcasting.

 

He said: “We are all curious about our neighbours and Ireland is in that sense a big neighbourhood. Our media...are a kind of garden fence we lean on to chat to the person next door, to complain about the footpaths or find out more about the family who’ve moved in at number seven.”

 

Mr Dobson praised the role of public broadcasting in Ireland, especially the part RTÉ has played in bringing coverage of news and current affairs into people’s homes.

 

He said that the broadcasting benchmark in Ireland for public service broadcasting is that the media treats the audience as intelligent adults.

 

He also spoke of the importance of the license fee, saying: “For RTÉ it has to be popular if the license fee is to be justified.

 

“Why should the many pay for programmes watched only by the few? If that were to happen the case for keeping the license fee would be harder and harder to make, and public funding of broadcasting would likely wither away.”

 

Mr Dobson explained that the central obligation of RTÉ is to provide a service to the whole community.

 

However he also said that on occasion, in a rush to see ratings rise, the national broadcaster can reach a crisis. He used the example of the Fr Reynolds Prime Time case in 2011.

 

He described the case as the “single biggest crisis” he had witnessed in his then 25-year career in RTÉ News and Current Affairs.

 

He added: “But it seemed to me that RTÉ’s fundamental failure was to allow this appetite for ‘edgy’, ground breaking journalism to devour good journalistic practice and particularly editorial practice. It was a failure above all of editorial control.”

 

Despite this, RTÉ eventually “got back up on the investigative horse,” according to Mr Dobson.

 

“Crucially, investigative programmes are now broadcast when they are ready to be broadcast, when they have cleared the editorial process,” he added.

 

He concluded: “Public service broadcasting should continue to be adequately funded...But it should also continue to be fully accountable for that funding.”