THE cash-strapped state broadcaster is on course to "break even" by the end of the year thanks to a range of cuts and savings, RTE director general Cathal Goan claimed yesterday.
But he was told by an Oireachtas committee that the pay of some leading RTE presenters was "disproportionate and unjustifiable" amid the current economic difficulties.
Mr Goan was responding to questions in which he said a €68m budget hole would be plugged at the station and no licence fee hike was imminent.
"There is absolutely no truth in the story which has featured in recent press coverage of RTE that we face bankruptcy and/or a deficit of €100m," said Mr Goan. "There is no denying -- indeed we have publicly stated -- we are in a very difficult place, but it is not the crisis portrayed," he told TDs and senators at Leinster House.
Responding to questions from communications committee chairman Fianna Fail's MJ Nolan, Mr Goan refused to divulge the latest figures for the pay of RTE's top earners.
But he revealed 148 people on the station's 2,351 staff earn more than €100,000 a year.
The average salary at RTE is €62,496 but six or seven people earn more than €300,000. A total of 249 staff pull in €12m between them each year.
Labour TD Liz McManus said the issue of top pay had not been tackled by the Government or civil service and needed to be tackled by RTE.
"It is an affront that people can earn so much money when most people are earning modestly at RTE. This is a big issue which needs to be tackled more rigorously," she said.
Mr Goan said RTE's latest unpublished accounts, which contain details of fees earned by its presenters two years ago, cannot be divulged until the government publishes the 2008 set of financial results, which are due in the coming weeks.
Mr Goan said RTE only details salaries paid to stars going back on a two-year basis and that would not change.
Employees will shortly be offered the chance to leave in an early retirement scheme, Mr Goan told the Communications, Energy and Natural Resources committee. He said the budget deficit of €68m was caused by a slump in commercial revenue. Some €27m in savings had already been identified and the remaining €41m hole would be roughly broken into four areas.
Around €10m would come from non-staff related cost-cutting, €10m from one-off savings, €10m from initiatives linked to advertising and €10m in pay cuts across the board.
Fianna Fail TD Noel Coonan asked for assurances that Mr Goan would not be seeking a TV licence increase. "The people have paid enough," he said.
Speaking about staff pay cuts, Mr Goan said the move was "unquestionably painful" for staff, but was nothing more than what a number of private companies have introduced.
Unions at RTE are currently voting on the "request" for a pay cut and a decision is due soon, added Mr Goan. Presenters including Pat Kenny, Gerry Ryan and Ryan Tubridy have all agreed to pay cuts.
The director general added the priority at RTE was to protect the quality of programming and to protect as many jobs at the station as possible.
"We must also be efficient, effective, transparent and accountable. We must not be wasteful or presumptuous in any way about public funds."