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Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ; Irish for "Radio and Television of Ireland") is the national publicly-funded broadcaster of Ireland. It both produces programmes and broadcasts on television, radio and the Internet. The radio service began on January 1. 1926, while regular television broadcasts began on December 31, 1961.

RTÉ is an autonomous corporation run by an authority appointed by the incumbent government for a term of five years. General management of the organisation is in the hands of a Director-General. Its domestic programming and broadcasts are funded by levying television licence fees upon the owners of television sets.

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Principal stations


Telefís Éireann began broadcasting at 7:00pm on December 31, 1961. The opening address by President of Ireland Eamon de Valera described the benefits and disadvantages of the new medium. He went on to say that "Like atomic energy, it can be used for incalculable good but it can also do irreparable harm". There were other messages from Cardinal d'Alton and An Taoiseach, Seán F. Lemass. Following this a live concert was broadcast from the Gresham Hotel in Dublin. The show, which was a countdown to the new year, was hosted by the Chairman of the Radio Eireann Authority, Eamonn Andrews, with appearences by Patrick O'Hagan, the Artane Boys Band and Micheál Ó Hehir.

Television opened up a completely new world to the Irish people. Topics which were hitherto not discussed in Ireland, such as abortion, contraception and various other controversial topics, were now openly being discussed in television studios. The Late Late Show, which began in July 1962 and is still running as of 2005, and its original host, Gay Byrne, pioneered many of these discussions and has been credited with being a major influence in the changing social structure of Ireland.

RTÉ made its first colour transmissions in 1969. The first programme made in colour by RTÉ was a 7 Days documentary special called "John Hume's Derry". The next phase was colour outside broadcasts, and the first was the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, the first of many such productions by RTÉ. All of RTÉ's studios at Donnybrook were equipped for colour broadcasts by 1976.

In 1977 a new Fianna Fáil government came to power and as one of its many promises, the government quickly authorised a second channel to be run by RTÉ. RTÉ 2's remit was to provide alternative television. As a consequence, the original RTE 2 schedule had many live relays of British programmes, however, there were also some original RTE2 programming. The new television channel went on the air on November 2, 1978. The opening night featured a gala variety show from the Cork Opera House.

In the early 1980s RTÉ 2 became Network 2. All sports coverage was transferred to the newly renamed channel, along with the few Irish language programmes provided by RTÉ. All children's programmes were now broadcast on Network 2 also.

Although Irish language programmes, such as Nuacht (the news) and Léargas (insight) have been an integral part of the schedule, in 1996 a new Irish language TV service, Teilifís na Gaeilge, since renamed TG4, began broadcasting for the first time though much of its programming is English movies and sport which are often unrelated to the language or Ireland for that matter. TG4 is owned by a subsidary of the RTÉ Authority, Serbhisí Telefis na Gaelige Teoranta, however legislation exists that can provide for its separation. (For more details see the separate article on TG4). RTÉ's monopoly on TV broadcasting in the Republic only ended in 1998, with the launch of the commercial channel TV3.

Presently, both RTÉ One and RTÉ Two (the new name for the second channel as of 2004) provide round-the-clock broadcasts seven days a week, providing comprehensive coverage of news, current affairs, sport, music, drama and entertainment. Most of the broadcasts are in English, including programming imported from Britain, the United States and Australia.

RTÉ One, RTÉ Two and TG4 are also available in Northern Ireland (coverage and inclusion on cable systems varies), and from 1995 to 2002, there was also a channel in Great Britain Tara Television, which carried RTÉ programming, though not Irish sport coverage like the highly popular GAA or Gaelic games, as broadcasting rights had already been licensed to another channel, Setanta. Tara closed due to disagreements between RTÉ and the other companies. RTÉ One, Network 2 and TG4 are available throughout Great Britain and Ireland via satellite on Sky Digital, although these are encrypted (for rights reasons, according to RTÉ), and anyone wishing to view the channels needs to obtain a Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland subscription (Family Pack or higher). There has been criticism that RTÉ is not available free on Sky Digital in the Republic (there is no use of "free to view", a non-subscription viewing card, as was used by the BBC).

From the outset, RTÉ had faced competition from British TV channels such as those of the BBC and UTV, broadcasting from Northern Ireland, whose signal spilt over into the Republic. RTÉ's approach was pragmatic, as it introduced cable television in the 1970s, initially known as RTÉ Relays, and subsequently as Cablelink, although it later sold its stake in the company, which is now known as NTL Ireland. In the late 1980s, more competition came from satellite television, especially from Sky based in the UK.

In 2003, RTÉ's reality TV show Cabin Fever (TV Show) made international news when the ship, on which contestants where scheduled to remain for eight weeks, with one person voted off each week by viewers and forced literally to "walk the plank" was thrown into chaos when the sailing ship on which the show was taking place hits rocks near Tory Island, off the Irish coast, and later sank (On Friday the 13th!). All the contestants escaped unharmed.

Three personalities have worked with and continue to work with RTÉ since 1962:

See also: List of RTÉ television programming


The first voice broadcast of 2RN, the original radio callsign for Radio 1, took place on November 14, 1925 when an announcer said, "Seo Raidió 2RN, Baile Átha Cliath ag tástáil", meaning "This is Radio 2RN, Dublin testing". Regular Irish radio broadcasting began on January 1, 1926. 2RN later became known as Radio Éireann. Now, RTÉ has a nationwide commnications network with an increasing emphasis on regional news-gathering and input. Broadcasting on Radio 1 provides comprehensive coverage of news, current affairs, music, drama and variety features, agriculture, education, religion and sport, mostly in English but also some Irish. RTÉ 2FM is a popular music and chat channel, while RTÉ Lyric FM serves the interests of classical music and the arts. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, an exclusively Irish language service, first began broadcasting in 1972.

Formerly RTÉ operated a radio station in Cork - RTÉ Radio Cork - as an opt-out of RTÉ Radio 1, but this was closed down in the early 2000s due to low listenership figures. A slightly adapted version of Radio One is broadcast on longwave and Sky Digital as RTÉ Europe.

RTE Television Genres

Since 2003, RTÉ has branded its television programmes under a number of a number of different genres. Each genre operates under a Commissioning Editor, except for RTÉ News and Current Affairs, which has a Managing Director and is a division of RTÉ in its own right, and RTÉ Sport. Both of these latter divisions operate across all the radio and television services.

Other activities

RTÉ also operates a comprehensive website,, which provides online news, sport, and entertainment services. Live streams of all of RTÉ's national radio networks are available online. RTÉ Television provides a teletext service on RTÉ One and RTÉ Two, RTÉ Aertel, which has news, sport, and programme support information.

RTÉ Music supports two full-time orchestras - the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra - as well as the RTÉ Vanbergh String Quartet, RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, and RTÉ Cór na nÓg. These groups perform regularly in the National Concert Hall and The Helix in Dublin. RTÉ Music's slogan is RTÉ - Supporting the Arts.

RTÉ Commercial Enterprises Limited publishes the RTE Guide and a number of other magazines in Ireland, as well as publishing DVDs and VHS videos of RTÉ Television programmes, and audio tapes and compact discs of RTÉ radio programmes or RTÉ Music performances.

RTÉ Network Limited not only transmits RTÉ's own channels, but also provides transmission for TV3 Ireland, TG4, and Today FM.


The station operates as a statutory corporation. The board of RTÉ is known as the RTÉ Authority. This body is appointed by the Irish Minister for Communications, Marine & Natural Resources. The Authority is both the legal owner of RTÉ and its regulator, a situation similar to that of the BBC Board of Governors. The Authority appoints the chief executive officer of RTÉ, known as the Director-General. The Director-General heads the Executive Board of RTÉ, which comprises the station's top management, including the managing directors of the main divisions - Television, Radio, and News. RTE's fully commercial activities are grouped under RTE Commercial Enterprises Limited, which is somewhat equivilant to BBC Worldwide. This division includes the largest selling television listings magazine in Ireland, the RTE Guide.

RTÉ receives income from three main sources:

  • The television licence fee, all owners of television sets in the State must pay a fee of €155 in order to legally possess any piece of equipment capable of receiving television signals (not necessarily RTÉ). This money is collected by An Post, and then given over minus a fee to RTÉ.
  • The sale of advertising and sponsorship on its radio and television services. Certain types of programming, most notably news, do not take sponsorship – although weather bulletins, part of all news programmes, are in reality sponsored on television by Eircom and on radio by IIB Bank. In January 2005 the Broadcasting Complaints Commission upheld complaints about this circumventing of sponsorship restrictions imposed by Comreg.
  • The profits from products sold by RTÉ CEL.

RTÉ makes also some income from overseas sales of its programmes.


(This section deals with the history of RTÉ as an organisation. For details of the development of the specific services, and especially the history of Radio Éireann prior to 1960, see the separate articles on those services).


Broadcasting in Ireland began in 1926 with 2RN in Dublin. From that date, until June 1960, the broadcasting service (2RN, then later Radio Éireann) operated as a section of the Department of Posts and Telgraphs, and those working for the service were directly employed by the Irish Government and regarded as civil servants.

In 1960, RTÉ was established (as Radio Éireann) under the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, the principal legislation under which it operates. The existing Radio Éireann service was transfered to the new authority, which was also to make provision for the new television service (Télifis Éireann) which opened on 31st December 1961. Eamonn Andrews was the first Chairman of Radio Éireann, the first director general was Edward Roth. The name of the authority was changed to Radio Telefis Éireann under the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1966, and both the radio and television services became known as RTÉ in that year.

Northern Ireland

RTÉ's coverage of Northern Ireland and the Troubles has always been controversial. Under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs could direct RTÉ "not to broadcast any matter, or any matter of any particular class". In 1971, the first such directive was issued by Gerry Collins, directing RTÉ not to broadcast "any matter that could be calculated to promote the aims or activities of any organisation which engages in, promotes, encourages or advocates the attaining of any particular objectives by violent means". Following this, Collins dismissed the entire RTÉ Authority over an interview with an (unidentified on-air) source which had been the then chief of staff of the Provisional IRA.

Ìn 1977, Conor Cruise O'Brien, the then Minister, issued a new directive. RTÉ was now explicity banned from broadcasting statements by spokespersons of Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA, or any other organisation banned in Northern Ireland. This order was very rigorously enforced by RTÉ (following the earlier controversy), so much so that no person suspected of membership of Sinn Féin was allowed to appear on the station, in any capacity. This lasted until 1994 when it was allowed to expire.

Century Radio and the cap on RTÉ revenue

In 1990, the Minister for Communications, Ray Burke, announced that in order to allow the independent broadcasting sector (but especially the then in trouble Century Radio) to develop, RTÉ's advertising revenue would be capped (Broadcasting Act 1990). This did not help Century at all, but seriously hampered RTÉ's financial position, so much so that at the Flood Tribunal it was later revealed by the then RTÉ chief financial officer that RTÉ would have gone bankrupt, had the cap not been abolished in 1993.

RTÉ was also instructed by the Minister to reduce its transmission fees for Century to less than IEP 200,000. This was far below the commercial rate.

Future of RTÉ

In 2004, RTÉ and the Minister for Communications, Marine, and Natural Resources agreed that in future, RTÉ would operate under a Public Service Broadcasting Charter. Unlike the BBC's Royal Charter, this is non-binding and RTÉ's existence is not dependent on it. Nevertheless this is a substantial change in how RTÉ operates. It is also suggested that future legislation will abolish the current RTÉ structures and change the station into a limited company incorporated under the Companies' Acts, and separate the regulatory role, perhaps to an expanded Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (which would be renamed the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland). However legislation on this matter is still to be published.

Further reading

Jack Dowling, Lelia Doolin, Bob Quinn, Sit Down and Be Counted: the cultural evolution of a television station, Wellington Publishers Ltd., Dublin, 1969.

See also

External links

Radio Telefís Éireann Missing image
corporate logo

Television: RTÉ One | RTÉ Two | TG4

Radio: RTÉ Radio 1 | 2FM | RTÉ Lyric FM | Raidió na Gaeltachta

eo:Radio Telefís Éireann

ga:Radio Telefís Éireann


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