Michael O’ Keeffe has been involved in the regulation of broadcasting in Ireland since the establishment of the Independent Radio and Television Commission in 1988. He became Chief Executive of that organisation in 1991 and subsequently continued in this role in the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) from 2001-2009 and in the BAI since its establishment in 2009 until the present day.
What are your views on media cross ownership in Ireland?
This issue is relevant to one of the key strategic themes of the BAI which is to promote diversity and plurality in the media in Ireland. Within our licensing and other policies, the BAI strives to facilitate a mix of voices, opinions and sources of news and current affairs in audiovisual media in Ireland. The BAI seeks to ensure that there are a range of different perspectives available across the media to viewers and listeners and we also play a role in determining the desirability or otherwise of media mergers.
There is no doubt that the developing media environment, particularly new media platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, have created some threats to traditional media. The BAI will facilitate cross media ownership but our policies include certain safeguards to ensure that no one voice or perspective will dominate.
The future for TV and radio is more challenging as the newer Online and Streaming services take greater share. However, traditional media is resilient and I believe that both TV and Radio can continue to thrive in the future. They may need to adapt and the regulatory environment may also need to adapt to reflect developments in newer media.
With regard to TV, the proposed revision of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) which should come into effect in 2018/2019 will adjust some of the current regulatory imbalance between traditional and new media. On the radio side, the BAI will shortly commence a review of the current Broadcasting Services Strategy and this will examine some of the issues facing the Radio medium in Ireland and explore potential options for change.
Do you think traditional radio could go the way of printed news?
I think radio has challenges. It needs to adapt and make good use of and be complementary to new media rather than compete with it. Its great power is its ability to engage with listeners and I believe that will always ensure that it has an important place in people’s media usage habits.
Is youth tuning out of radio?
Listenership is certainly down among this age cohort. However, it still remains strong at over 70% “any listening” and the challenge for youth station chief executives will be to ensure that the offering remains relevant to the youth listeners of today.
It has been reported that youth are turned off by news, do you agree?
There is certainly evidence that the traditional format of news is less appealing to a youth audience. Station chiefs have begun to address this through the introduction of a different approach to the presentation of news which should pay dividends. A recent example of this, which was approved by the BAI, was the change in the format and content of news on the Spin 1038 station in Dublin. Certainly, it would appear that shorter news bulletins with a mix of major news stories and entertainment inserts may be more appealing to this demographic.
Are there too many licences? Will local radio stations ever be allowed to go national?
To answer the second question first. It would not be possible to allow local services to go national due to restrictions on the FM band. The whole purpose of a local station is to provide programming that is relevant to the audience in a specific local area and it is therefore questionable whether allowing them to go national would be desirable. That being said, audiences can now access all of the local radio stations in Ireland via the Radio Player – a very positive joint initiative from RTE and the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI).
There are a wide divergence of views on the number of licences in existence. In other jurisdictions, you are likely to find a much greater number of radio licences than in Ireland, however the regulatory regimes are quite different. This is one of the issues the BAI will explore in our forthcoming review of the Broadcasting Services Strategy.
What do you see as the future of the Irish media?
Ireland has a strong media at present. In TV and radio, there is a good mix of national, regional, local and community services provided by both the public and private sectors and listenership to radio and viewership of TV in Ireland is among the highest across Europe. The print media retains a very strong national and local presence although it faces greater challenges from both a readership and commercial perspective.
Funding issues dominate the agenda of all traditional media players and the BAI has recognised this in our Statement of Strategy 2017-2019. A key theme in this Statement is Enhancing Innovation and Sectoral Sustainability which has a strategic objective of “working with stakeholders to support the achievement of greater sustainability for the Irish audiovisual sector”. The BAI recognises that the future is challenging and there is an ongoing threat from new media. However, it remains the case that Irish people value relevant and local content and we will work with the sector to ensure that this remains the case into the future.