Shane Nolan argues that, with traditional TV going out of style, RTÉ need to provide better shows to get a licence fee.
When Dee Forbes let slip that RTÉ was ‘great value’ at just forty cents a day and that it could, theoretically, be doubled in order to improve its fine services even further, the media/public/disgruntled among us rose in collective furore that the new RTE chief could be so naïve.
 
To cut RTÉ some slack, they are selling off land to the value of seventy-five million to cover their debts. Like all state-owned companies, they were hit hard by the recession and losing forty million of their income through unpaid licence fees does not help their cause.
 
Would RTÉ be better if 14% of us weren’t dodging the laughable 46 licence inspectors expected to cover the country? Or should we be content to be obliged to pay for a service that has proven itself to be incompetent, unoriginal and ridiculously sub-standard?
 
The problem with RTÉ (and Bus Éireann too, as the strikes rumble on) is that we actually use them. The tax payer deals with these companies frequently, or perhaps doesn’t because they’re so poorly run. One turns on RTÉ to find ten repeats, a minor celebrity walking rural Ireland or another British converted program like Dancing with the Stars (more minor celebrities). Use the bus and you will have encountered countless delays; if you were lucky enough for it showed up at all.
 
Few other state enterprises cause such a constant confrontation between tax payer/consumer and company, each time cementing the knowledge that the company being subsidised is not worth the cost. The TV licence controversy gets complicated quite quickly. RTÉ and the government want the tax- because, well, that’s their job. The TV licence, however, especially in its obligatory nature, is one tax people should justifiably not want to pay.
 
David McSavage, funnily enough an RTÉ employee at the time, (and whose wider Andrews-Fianna Fáil-member family support an all-encompassing Broadcast Charge) refused to pay his TV licence because it wasn’t worth paying. The quality of programming, in his esteemed opinion, was just too poor. McSavage had the last great comedy of RTÉ, ‘The Savage Eye’. He wasn’t complaining about paying back in RTÉ’s heyday of The Panel, Raw and top American shows (without time delays) like Lost and Prison Break. The problem arose when the standard plummeted.
 
Splitting the Champions League with TV3 began proceedings. Listening to Mark Lawrenson is tough going, but if it saves a few hundred grand it might just be worth it. From next year on they’ll lose the Six Nations too. Republic of Telly was long overdue to be put out of its awful misery, while many similar shows should face an equally ambivalent axe.
 
When Netflix is just a tenner a month and between streaming, Chromecast and countless other formats, the TV’s death knell is not that far away. It is ludicrous to think people will happily churn over 160 euros a year for Tracks and Trails and to watch Vogue Williams in a nice foreign country relaxing.
 
Minister Denis Naughten understands the changing technological world we live in and has craftily come up with the redefined definition of a TV as any device with a screen over elven inches- very crafty indeed. Unfortunately, RTÉ seems content to redefine quality programming to any tripe with a Z-list celebrity in a slightly different/sunnier setting. We’ll love that won’t we? We’ll cancel our accounts and shut down our laptops immediately.
 
Understandably, the government needs to get the licence fee money. It isn’t Naughten’s job to find the new Love/Hate. Adding the charge on to the ESB bills like Italy would probably be easiest or even FF’s blanket broadcast charge. However, the bigger issue is the inability to decline a service that many no longer want.
 
In college houses without even owning the TV, one is still expected to pay. Without the TV working, one is expected to pay. Even while the TV is turned, facing against the wall and used as an auxiliary table, the licence fee still somehow applies. No longer owning a TV isn’t prehistoric but the next logical step. Even owning a TV doesn’t mean everyone is hanging on what rubbish RTÉ produce. If you’re paying Sky every month, you can’t be expected to foot another bill for Prime Time. If you don’t have a working TV to have the pleasure of hearing Ryan Turbridy’s 500,000 euro voice, then why should you pay for it?
 
I haven’t even broached the high-earner list, but that’s well known already. Do you value Joe Duffy at 400,000 euro? Miriam at around 350,000 euro - genuinely? If not, then you’re not alone. The Government needs their money and that’s fair enough but RTÉ and the buses need to be properly looked at, and removed if they can’t perform adequately.