RTÉ is Ireland’s national broadcaster. It is an important part of our cultural landscape and of our national memory. It is a keeper of a vast and wealthy cultural and historical archive. RTÉ already has a public service obligation. For a variety of reasons, it is very important that we protect public service broadcasting. In this regard, I welcome the work the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has been doing to protect public service broadcasting, and to protect and support media in Ireland more generally.
We must focus on RTÉ because it is funded by means of commercial advertising and through taxpayer funding. The latter revenue stream takes the form of the TV licence. In recent years, that has amounted to approximately 60% of RTÉ’s total income. It is right that we support public broadcasting, but we must be conscious that this puts an obligation on the national broadcaster to citizens, not just in the context of current programming but also regarding the station’s extensive archive, which dates back to the inception of the State.
Accessing the RTÉ archive is deeply, and perhaps deliberately, prohibitive. There are no finding aids or online catalogue for citizens to view. Such aids exist but they are not made available. By way of comparison, the BBC in the UK has a fully searchable video database online. Its archive collection is fully deposited and viewable through the British Film Institute, BFI. Any citizen can visit the BFI and access this material. My Bill seeks to place an onus on RTÉ and, in particular, its director general to operate the archive in a more transparent and accessible way. The Bill proposes a very simple, one-section amendment to the Broadcasting Act 2009 to place an obligation on RTÉ to provide free public access to the archive for citizens and academics. This would make archive the valuable cultural and historical instrument that it is, while also protecting its economic value to RTÉ.
In other jurisdictions, there are many positive examples of good practice in this area. RTÉ should be replicating these structures and operating procedures. My Bill seeks to do oblige it to do that. There is an obligation on RTÉ, as a result of all the support the Government and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media have given to it, to be more responsive to the citizens who fund it.