BY EAMONN O’MAHONY
If you thought you Brits had it bad paying out £147 a year for your TV licence, then think about us poor Irish who pay out €160 a year for our own poll tax imposed on anyone who watches the telly. We face a similar Stasi inspectorate and bailiffs, similar court appearances and jail sentences if we fail to cough up. Statistics show that a few years ago in the Dublin region alone, there were 11,500 prosecutions, up 10% over 2011. Of those convicted, 242 were sent to jail. A disgrace if ever there was one.
You may have noticed that you have a population of 66 million souls while ours is a mere 4.7 million. Economies of scale mean that while your BBC can at least produce some award-winning drama alongside absolute crap like Bargain Hunters and depressing bollox like East Enders using its license fee billions, our RTÉ (TV licence fees make up 50% of the income of RTÉ) is a dog’s breakfast of lacklustre productions featuring the same old talentless faces which last year resulted in a loss of near €20M.
Think amateur dramatics society mixed with a presenter pool whose best faces have fled to abroad where there is an actual audience (although RTÉ does have a mighty fine orchestra). In addition to the losses for 2016, RTÉ now expects it will not be able to deliver on an earlier commitment to break even in 2017. RTÉ broke even in 2013 after significantly reducing costs. Prior to that, RTÉ endured five years of losses, peaking in 2012 with a €65m deficit.
The BBC employs a ridiculously large total of 16,672 staff (96 people on more than £150,000 each). So, RTÉ should be employing in the region of 1180 employees if they follow the BBC’s portly recruitment strategies, if you use population statistics as the arbiter. Yet obese RTÉ employs just under 2000 staff. Conservative estimates within the private media sector reckon RTÉ is overstaffed by approximately 250%. RTÉ forked out €10m on salaries for its 80 best paid staff members in a year (2013) – on top of the €3m it paid its stars. As for paying women less than men, who knows? RTÉ refuse to say publicly how misogynistic they might be and point to females in top echelons including the DG.
You Brits forever complain about BBC bias when it comes to politics. But at least you have “Tory” Nick Robinson on the Today Programme and Andrew Neil on Daily Politics to help offset the mush of liberal poison that has permeated the BBC like a cancer. RTÉ is a bastion of liberal and centre-left parties. Our current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar even openly admitted RTÉ was biased when he was News Minister a few years back and publicly declared RTÉ needed to have a good look at itself and its editorial practices. Breda O’Brien of the Irish Times hit the nail on the head when she wrote about RTÉ, “Groupthink will often develop where people who think alike are in powerful positions for too long and where the capacity for critical self-examination and “peer review” is lost. It happens in the church. Acknowledging its presence is often the hardest step.”
So, what delights can you watch on RTÉ channels? Well, you get the usual slew of current affairs bias and the cheap, imported soap shite from Australia. Enjoy some Telly Bingo and half an hour of Design Doctors (your equivalent is called DIY SOS I believe) if the paint on your wall has already dried. Then you’re hit by uplifting East Enders (yes, we are not immune over the Irish Sea either) and later on Find me a Home (your equivalent is Location, Location which is less depressing as your property market is still buoyant and house sellers appear less suicidal). That’s on RTÉ One. Over on RTÉ 2 you need a higher IQ, where you can lend your brain to Fluffy Gardens, Fireman Sam and The Simpsons, as well as repeat Father Ted Episodes (after the nine o’clock watershed of course to placate the grey rinse prudes).
Count yourselves lucky. The BBC’s most annoying presenters like Gary Lineker and Anne Robinson only get a few hours airtime per week at most. RTÉ selects from a much smaller bunch of overpaid luvvies. So, there are times when you switch on the telly and on one RTÉ channel you’ve got the buffoon and narcissist that is Philip Boucher-Hayes vomiting protein shakes in his series called What are You Eating? And on the next channel there he is again in Buyer Beware, chasing a Baptist minister who set up a divine investment scheme that went horribly wrong. Whack-a-mole. If only.
While the All-Ireland Final gets 1.3 million viewers as the most-watched RTÉ programme (make great sport available to as many people as possible and they will watch in their droves) and the Late Late Show holds up the late-night stats for RTÉ, RTÉ’s other programmes are roundabout in the same hall of shame, perhaps watched in a few convents and asylums, those who are yet to sign up to Netflix or get a satellite dish. The most recent of RTÉ’s annual reports is a quagmire of bad news when it comes to viewing figures. RTÉ Two’s average all-day viewing figures have been dropping like a stone. US imports into RTÉ’s schedule have done something to plug the dam when it comes to viewers kicking in their telly or dying (of boredom).
RTÉ Radio is not much better, although there are a few diamonds to be found amidst the slew of turds (the radio arm of RTÉ is generally so bad that a pig came to visit the studio of RTÉ Radio 1 last year and had a crap as he thought he was in his sty). I can’t remember when I last listened to a news programme that didn’t have some sort of technical hitch. Usually it’s an interviewee not being on the line when cued. €160 a year from every listener and non-listener alike along with advertising, text messaging and promotions revenue. What the hell do they do for all that money?
And so, my British friends, we are in the same boat. The TV licence fee over here is just as unpopular as it is over there (roundabout the same 70% – 80% think it should be abolished). So, tell me, how do we get rid of this daylight robbery? Do we simply stop paying this unfair tax en masse and risk the consequences? (You should take a lesson from us on this: Evasion levels in Ireland are almost three times higher than those experienced in the UK and collection costs are more than double other European counterparts i.e we know how to dodge these bastards better than you!). Do we fill in petition after petition such as you have done and get the subject back into the limelight in our respective parliaments? Do we continue to expose the heavy-handed bullying of the tax collectors? Perhaps carp on increasingly loudly about the epic shiteness of the presenters, who think they are somehow above the common man because they are “watched” by a sleeping drunk on his sofa and the occasional feline anus?
I sense a coming revolution, my friends, as these Government monoliths are well past their sell-by-date. Together, let us bring these towers of propaganda and left-wing drivel crumbling down. Together, Comrades, let us flush this shite down the bog once and for all and stop paying their wholly offensive bleeding tax. I agree with Robert. Just replace BBC with Raidió Teilifís Éireann in his tweet and you have caught the mood of the vast majority of us fine Irish people.
Eamonn is a Country Squire Magazine Guest Writer from County Wicklow.