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RTÉ

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Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) [1] is Ireland's national public broadcaster. Started in 1926 as a state-owned radio station Radio Éireann, later in 1960, it broadcasted the TV channel Telefís Éireann. In 1961 under the Broadcasting Authority Act, RTÉ has reconfigured from a section of the government's Department of Posts and Telegraphs, into an independent public broadcaster. This is a broadcaster that is owned by the people and thus not under the whims of the government, in a style and arrangement similar to the BBC. It is funded by a mixture of an obligatory annual licence fee, advertising, sponsorship and its own commercial enterprises. Today it broadcasts three TV channels (RTÉ One, RTÉ Two & RTÉ News), seven radio stations (RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2FM, RTÉ Lyric, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, RTÉjr, RTÉ Gold, RTÉ Chill & RTÉ News), a catch-up service, the RTÉ Player, a website, rte.ie, and various other commercial enterprises. Although it is an organisation for those in the Republic, it also available those in Northern Ireland through digital means despite not paying the Irish licence fee.

Many major Irish celebrities started or spent a significant part of their career at RTÉ including newsreader Miriam O'CallaghanWikipedia, presenters Terry WoganWikipedia, Gay ByrneWikipedia and Ryan TubridyWikipedia, comedians Dara Ó BriainWikipedia, Tommy TiernanWikipedia, Neil DelamereWikipedia and Andrew MaxwellWikipedia, and musicians BoyzoneWikipedia, U2Wikipedia and The CorrsWikipedia (which includes Jim Corr).

Close but no cigar[edit]

Until the Broadcasting Act, RTÉ was effectively a state institution under the wing of the Department of Posts & Telegraphs, which meant that it was in effect part of the Irish government. After the act was introduced, it gave RTÉ independence from the government. However, this freedom was limited as the act also gave the minister of the Department some rights to overrule that autonomy. Two of these rights were firstly the right to choose who was on the governing board, the RTÉ Authority, and secondly the right to censor certain items from being broadcasted. Unless you were able to catch the frequencies of the BBC which easily overspilled over Ireland, many things were simply unheard of, for example, the whole genre of jazz music was banned until the late 1950s!

One way that the minister could rule was over the broadcasting, which was items relating to the Troubles in the North. Under a ministerial order under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, in 1971 all members or spokespersons of any organisation that were connected to terrorism which in effect was principally aimed Sinn Féin/IRA, could not broadcast anything at all at any time. Even items unrelated to the Troubles were forbidden, such interviewing a Sinn Féin member who was the union leader of the Gateaux strike [2] or taking a call from a member of the public to a gardening show, on the grounds the individual was a Sinn Féin member. It was only abolished when the former minister and now president Michael D. Higgins, didn’t renew the order in 1994.

In the mid-1970s to early 1990s, the Marxist Workers Party of Ireland establishes a covert cumann [cell] within RTÉ called Ned Stapleton CumannWikipedia, consisting of various journalists to try to influence the organisation and its broadcasting. This lead to issues and tensions within the organisation over objectivity.

RTÉ is still plagued with accusations about its objectivity and that it is too close to the two main establishment parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Examples include that Miriam O’Callaghan, whose brother JimWikipedia is a leading FF politician, Tubridy who was previously head of Ógra Fianna Fáil at his university, one of the people that broke COVID-19 rules in GolfgateWikipedia was former senior news presenter Seán O’Rourke and former FG taoiseach [prime minister] Enda Kenny getting funding for his television travelogue, Iarnród Enda.

Money[edit]

Like other parts of Europe, Ireland has an obligatory annual public broadcasting licence fee. This consists of a flat-rate household charge of 160 euro. Non-payment of this charge can result in a fine of 1000 euro or time in prison. [3] Despite the financial risks and being managed by a government agency, non-payment is rife at nearly one in seven households not paying a TV licence, three times the rate of the UK and Germany. [4]

Unlike the UK where the licence fee covers nearly all the costs of public broadcasting, RTÉ has to subside this financing by other means. This includes having advertising breaks, sponsorship (…RTÉ Weather sponsored by Ulster Bank…), product placement (there is a reason why the corner store in the soap Fair CityWikipedia is a Spar) and government cultural grants (…this programme was helped by the Irish Film Industry…). Plus on top of that, some of RTÉ output is completely commercially funded like the pop station 2FM and rte.ie, which makes you wonder where the money goes. Also since the Great Recession, RTÉ has been in permanent financial crisis [5] and has had to slash budgets including cutting programming and hospitality, while many major big names like Tubridy or radio personality Ray D'Arcy, continue to have six-figure salaries. [6]

Religion[edit]

Like many Irish institutions like the Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution of Ireland), the Catholic Church has its beady eye over RTÉ.

Even today, it still plays The AngelusWikipedia bell twelve times, twice a day at 1200 and 1800 on the main RTÉ One and RTÉ Radio 1 stations. In fact, this leads to a unique situation where the primary evening TV news program starts at one-minute past six, better to clear your soul than to know what is going on in the world. Originally it showed a picture of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, [7] but now it shows people gazing into the distance without any reference to the religious aspect of the bells at all.[8] Despite calls for RTÉ to scrap it,[9][10] RTÉ says it is the country's most popular religious programme at around half a million viewers.

The bishop and the nightie incident[edit]

In 1966, on RTÉ’s flagship chat show The Late Late Show, the presenter Gay Byrne did a Mr and MrsWikipediashow style piece with a suburban couple Richard and Eileen Fox from County Dublin. Asked what was the colour of the nightie (nightgown) that Mrs Fox wore on their wedding night, initially Mr Fox said it was transparent and later Mrs Fox said she didn’t wear one at all which led to laughter by the audience.[11]

After that incident, the Bishop of Clonfert, the Most Reverend Dr Thomas Ryan, wrote to The Sunday Press condemning the show as immoral and the presenter as a promoter of filth. Later he asked his parishioners to write to the producers of the show saying that they will not tolerate such a programme. Afterwards, RTÉ apologised on air but took no further action.[12]

'God is rapist' skit[edit]

In the evening of New Year's Eve 2020, during the New Years Countdown 2020 show, RTÉ played a short 30-second comedy skit involving a fictitious news broadcast involving “God” being arrested outside Waterford Courthouse for a historical rape of a young girl. [13] The sketch was playing on the MeToo movement and the number of revelations of high profile historical sexual offences during that year.

After showing the skit within a couple of days RTÉ received 1100 complaints. However, while the broadcaster apologised for offending anyone, it didn’t take the skit off its online catch-up service but provided a preview warning. [14] It also received a complaint from Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, tweeting saying that it was blasphemous. [15] However the head of the main freethinkers' organisation in Ireland, Atheist IrelandWikipedia, Michael Nugent defended RTÉ saying, “Criticism or mockery of religious ideas is just as acceptable as criticism or mockery of secular ideas. People have rights. Their beliefs do not,” [16] A few days later one of the actors in the sketch, former newsreader Aengus Mac Grianna who retired in 2018, later apologised for his role. [17]

A week later after receiving over 5000 complaints, RTÉ’s editorial board had second thoughts and the broadcaster decided to remove the skit from its catch-up service altogether. Later the editorial board referred itself to the broadcasting ombudsman, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on the grounds of breaking the broadcasting code in relation to "undue offence". [18] [19]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Until 2009 due to Irish spelling reform, it was known as Radio Telefís Éireann.
  2. “Trade Unionist Takes On RTE Censorship”- Larry O’Toole Related Anti Section 31 Leaflet From The Free Speech Legal Fund
  3. TV Licence Citizens Infomation
  4. There has been a jump in the number of people buying a TV licence in the last year thejournal.ie
  5. Cash-strapped RTÉ won't seek full 200 job cuts previously flagged The Irish Independent
  6. Salaries for 10 highest-paid RTÉ presenters amounted to €3m in 2016 The Irish Times
  7. RTE 1 Adverts, The Angelus and News - Sunday 25 September 1983
  8. The Angelus on RTÉ
  9. Wesley Boyd: RTE fails to grasp the Angelus nettle once again The Irish Times
  10. 18:00 - time to end the Angelus Indymedia Ireland
  11. RTÉ Archives - The Bishop and the Nightie 1966 (audio only)
  12. The Bishop and the Nightie - how Gaybo scandalised the nation thejournal.ie
  13. RTE's New Years Countdown 2020 - Waterford Whispers God Skit
  14. RTÉ apologises after complaints over New Year's Eve countdown sketch RTÉ News
  15. @ArchbishopEamon - 1. I am shocked that producer/editor of 'NYE Countdown Show' @RTE @RTEOne didn’t realise how deeply offensive was a mocking 'news report' accusing God of rape & reporting his imprisonment. This outrageous clip should be removed immediately & denounced by all people of goodwill.
  16. Atheist Ireland defends mock broadcast depicting God as rapist thejournal.ie
  17. Aengus Mac Grianna apologises for role in controversial 'God is rapist' skit on RTÉ thejournal.ie.
  18. RTE admits God sketch caused 'undue offence' as clip to be removed from the Player Irish Mirror
  19. RTÉ Statement: RTÉ Editorial Standards Board findings