22 September 2008

RTÉ - Having our Cake and eat it

If you read this in the USA, you will probably wonder what all the fuss is about, as your life is already completely dominated by advertisement for a long time and you probably don't even notice them any more as an intrusion into your privacy. There is no TV or radio station in the United States that is not controlled by private interests, and every programme is crammed with advertisements to the hilt. Often the actual programme parts are seen as not more than elements to fill the spaces between the ads.

If you are in the UK, you are lucky and privileged to have the BBC, which is undoubtedly the best and most informative broadcaster in the world. There are no ads on the BBC, which is financed through a TV licence fee, payable by everyone who has a television set. (If you only listen to radio, as I do, it is free of charge and still without ads.) There are also many commercial stations in the UK, financed through ads, so the people have a choice, which they don't have in the USA.

In most European countries there is a mixed system, with public broadcasters and private stations. While the latter are financed entirely from advertisement revenue, the amount of ads carried by the public stations is strictly limited. In some countries the public stations are - like the BBC - totally ad-free.

Not so in Ireland. Here we also have a mixed system with private commercial stations, most of them for a limited local area, and the national broadcaster Radio Telefis Éireann (RTÉ). Like the BBC in Britain, RTÉ has a TV licence, while listening to radio is free. But in contrast to the BBC, the programmes of RTÉ - on radio and TV - are constantly interrupted by commercial advertisement. Not even the main news are exempt from that, which in my opinion shows real greed. It is a typical case of having one's cake and eat it. And it annoys me immensely.

In general RTÉ is not a bad station, and many of their programmes are well made, informative and often interesting to listen to. If there were not the constant ad breaks, filled with the most mind-numbing and annoying dribble, I would listen a lot more to RTÉ. (I don't watch TV and don't even have a television set.)
But after a while with RTÉ, I usually cannot bear it any longer and switch over to the BBC.

To avoid misunderstandings: I do not object to advertisement in general. It has its place in a free society, and at times it can actually be helpful and informative. But like with everything - too much of even the best makes it eventually unwanted and bad.
There is also the general question if a station that charges a TV licence fee should not be required to broadcast ad-free programmes, as the BBC does.
In Belgium a similar situation as the Irish was challenged in the High Court, and subsequently the public broadcaster had to decide: either TV licence, or advertisement. They chose the latter, and Belgian TV is now free of charge.

But RTÉ seems to be on a roll. Not enough that they bombard us with commercials all the time, they add self-promotional ads to their programmes as well. The most annoying of them all are the smug and arrogant little trailers that threaten people with the "TV licence inspector" (even on radio, which does not require a licence). Yes, as ridiculous as it is in the fully electronic and computerised 21st century, An Post (the Irish postal service) still employs people who go around the country, knocking on people's doors and demanding to see the TV licence. And as the system is arrogant, self-serving and badly organised, they often call on people (like me) who do not have a TV and therefore need no licence. You would not believe how arrogant they are, assuming automatically that everyone must have a television set.

I wonder how many other people - apart from myself - notice that most of the commercial ads broadcast on RTÉ radio (I cannot speak about TV, as I don't watch it, but I presume it is the same there) are actually nebulous, deceptive and often misleading. In fact, they can really say and promise anything they want in an ad - even if it is completely untrue - as long as they close with the often heard phrase: "Terms and conditions apply."
What these terms and conditions actually are and how they bind the interested customer, one will only discover when one contacts the company. Usually they are far less attractive than the promises made in the ad.

There is also the question if RTÉ vets advertisement before broadcasting it. If they do, it seems to be done not very thoroughly. For example, there appears an ad on RTÉ radio now for some time that promotes a product "to stimulate the regrowth of hair". Like many other folically challenged men I would theoretically be interested in such a remedy. But then again, if one knows that there simply is no way to regrow lost hair, no matter what one tries or does, the whole ad campaign is exposed as a scam. And as the voices on this particular ad (there are two versions, one for women and one for men) are distinctly English with a good bit of cockney accent, I presume that it is another attempt to sell a bad British product to the gullible 'colonials' here in Ireland.
The real give-away clue that exposes this particular campaign as a scam is at the end of the message. "Stick with it for at least six months," the speaker says. Well, if you do and realise that the stuff is not working and you still haven't got any new hair after six months, the company will have made more than enough money from you, buying their product for half a year.

Now and then ads with a special promotion that runs until a certain date are still appearing on air after the date has passed. I don't know if this is deliberate or just sloppy scheduling, but it is wrong anyway. Only yesterday I heard a promotional ad for Opel cars, saying that the promotion "ends on September 20th". But yesterday was already the 21st! (This sort of thing does not happen often, but it does and shouldn't.)

Especially annoying I find the ads for banks and insurance companies, the very people whose reckless speculations and gambling have caused the current global economic crisis.
They always start with a sensation or a big promise, then fall into financial jargon and always end with the - legally required - information about the firms status, which is "regulated by the financial regulator". This final part of the ad is usually spoken much faster than the rest of the ad, and often rattled down in the same way many Irish Catholics would rattle down a badly said rosary. That really says it all, tells us how serious the financial industry takes the "regulator". Given the situation we find ourselves in now, one does really wonder who this "regulator" is and what he or she is doing. Obviously not a lot.

Similar "regulators" exist for other industries, but they are not doing much either. And when they appear in the news, then only to give a quiet nod to price increases, like the exorbitant and unjustified rise of the electricity price in Ireland. This gives the Electrical Supply Board (ESB) an almost unlimited licence to print money, and we all are robbed blind and can do absolutely nothing about it (as we all need electricity nowadays).

But this is not about the ESB and electricity (I wrote about them already), but about advertisement, and especially ads on RTÉ. There are simply too many of them, and if there are more people like me, then our national broadcaster is loosing potential listeners (and viewers) as a result of this advertisement overdrive. Less would be more, make better programmes and attract more listeners (and viewers). But as things are, I expect that they will just carry on as usual. They live in a little world of their own, up there in Dublin 4, and don't give a hoot about the rest of us. If we listen to their programmes or not, they still get paid those huge salaries that sets them apart from ordinary people. But that was the same with the smug and arrogant gamblers in the US investment banks, until ... the whole system imploded.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

B said...

To be fair it is a much smaller station than BBC 1 or 2... probably 3 and 4 too!
The quality of BBC has taken a real nosedive in recent years(mainly thanks to BBC3's crapness).

TV3 seem to have about double the amount of ads as RTE... considering they've got a larger audience share than RTE2 and have nothing decent whatsoever it shows Ireland needs an awful lot more funding per person to have a decent station.

One major complaint I have for RTE is how they seem to buy an absolute ton of extremely good foreign television shows to show in the middle of the night... I can only imagine that shows from stations such as HBO would cost a fortune to acquire.

Post a Comment