Public Accounts Committee express concern over RTÉ's 'dependence on State funding'

ireland
Public Accounts Committee Express Concern Over Rté's 'Dependence On State Funding' Public Accounts Committee Express Concern Over Rté's 'Dependence On State Funding'
The PAC said RTÉ must ensure any liability due to the Exchequer arising out of an investigation into the broadcaster's use of contractors must be paid from commercial revenue streams. Photo: PA Images
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Muireann Duffy

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has raised concern that RTÉ is over-reliant on State funding, while commercial revenues have slumped in recent years.

In a report published on Tuesday, the PAC made nine recommendations across four issues discussed at a number of meetings between the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and RTÉ in 2020 and 2021.

The issues discussed also included the funding of public service broadcasting, the gender pay gap and remuneration of Irish-language workers at RTÉ, and the broadcaster's liabilities to the Exchequer arising out of an investigation into employment practices.

The committee also expressed concern as to the length of time being taken to make a decision on reforms of the current TV licence system.

Reforms

Chair of the PAC, Brian Stanley TD said progress had been made in tackling TV licence fee evasion between 2016-2018, however, the level of evasion has increased since that point, reaching 15.8 per cent in 2020.

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Mr Stanley added that reforms to the current licence system were suggested twice in recent years, by an Oireachtas committee in 2017 and a dedicated working group on public service broadcasting funding in 2019.

He also called for the publication of a recent report carried our by the Future of Media Commission in 2020, so "any implications for public expenditure can be assessed".

The PAC noted RTÉ's accounts showed commercial revenue had declined from €158.2 million in 2016 to €134.5 million in 2020, while Exchequer funding to the broadcaster increased by €18.3 million to €197.6 million in the same period.

"The Committee is concerned that while Exchequer funding to RTÉ has increased from 2016 to 2020, the broadcaster is not doing enough to reduce its dependence on State funding," Mr Stanley said.

Revenue

The PAC also raised the issue of RTÉ's outstanding liabilities to Revenue following a review in 2017 into the broadcaster's use of contractors.

The review found 157 workers had contracts which were found to be "in need of a further review as they had either attributes 'akin to employment' or 'akin to both employment and self-employment'," Mr Stanley said.

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RTÉ had earlier told the PAC that it engaged with Revenue to address outstanding PSRI liabilities arising from the use of contractors, reaching a settlement of approximately €1.2 million for "identified liabilities" between 2015-2018.

However, Mr Stanley said a separate investigation is currently being carried out by the Department of Social Protection, and further liabilities may be identified if similar practices are found to have occurred prior to 2015.

He added the department has confirmed to the PAC that RTÉ will be "liable to pay Revenue any assessed arrears that exceed the broadcaster’s settlement with Revenue in 2021".

Mr Stanley called on RTÉ and the department to ensure that the liabilities to the Exchequer are paid using funds from the broadcaster's commercial revenue streams or savings, rather than Exchequer funds (licence fees).

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