MICHAEL WOLSEY: We’ll miss RTÉ when it’s gone
A lot of important GAA club matches have been played in recent weeks – county and provincial finals for both hurling and football. RTÉ radio has covered them all and RTÉ television has shown extracts from many of them.
RTÉ doesn’t get much thanks for this service and that, I suppose, is fair enough. It’s a national broadcaster doing its job. But have no doubt, if RTÉ doesn’t do this job, nobody else will.
Nobody else would have covered the Irish women’s soccer team playing a home match against Ukraine and an away match against Greece.
Nobody else would have covered the hockey team’s double-header with Canada.
Somebody else would have covered Shane Lowry’s victory in the British Open but nobody else would have gone to Offaly to celebrate with Shane’s neighbours and meet his remarkable grandmother.
No other broadcaster would have been in Skibbereen to mark the achievements of the O’Donovan brothers or in Bray to rejoice with friends of Katie Taylor.
It is not just in matters of sport that we expect RTÉ to be our eyes and ears. We want it in Brussels, because, if it wasn’t there, we would be getting our EU reports through the Brexit-obsessed filter of British broadcasting.
We want it in Washington, because, while anyone could report facts from the US, we want someone who can sort the facts from the fiction and give them to us with an Irish interpretation.
At home, we expect RTÉ to give copious and balanced coverage to elections, budgets, referendums – events which absorb the nation’s interest. And we also expect it to cover matters in which there is not much interest at all, such as party conferences and presidential inaugurations. Even people who don’t watch these things expect them to be covered.
We expect RTÉ to operate regional studios, provide broadcasting in the Irish language and make some intelligent programmes for children. And oh, while you’re at it lads, we wouldn’t mind a bit of home-grown drama and a few decent Irish comedies.
We expect these services from our national broadcaster. Nobody provides them for Northern Ireland, or Scotland, or Wales. Or, for that matter, the Avignon province of France or the Andalucia district of Spain. These are all regions and are treated as such by their national broadcasters.
Ireland is an independent nation and to make that status meaningful we need to preserve an independent broadcasting voice. And we need to pay for it.
To live within its budget, RTÉ is having to cut back drastically. It has received very little sympathy from politicians, whose shortcomings are often exposed by the broadcaster. And its plight has been met with a degree of schadenfreude by national newspapers who have tended to see Montrose as a cosseted and elitist outfit, a competitor with an the unfair advantages of government bail-outs and a licence fee.
There is some truth in that view but the injustice to newspapers will not be rectified by penalising RTÉ.
In any case, I fear it is too late to save our national press. Newspapers once provided some of the services discussed here. They were also a forum for national debate but television and radio are now where our national debates are conducted – there, and on the unstructured platforms of social media.
People have stopped reading national newspapers, partly because, at a time when the internet appears to provide all things free of charge, they are unwilling to pay for them.
It’s use them or lose them – and soon we will have lost them. We’ll lose RTÉ, too, if we are not prepared to pay for it.
It will be too late to mourn when it’s gone.