Sunday 28 May 2017

'No final decision' on sale of up to 10 acres of RTÉ site, chiefs say

Any money raised from asset will go to capital budget, and not costs

Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy
Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

RTÉ chiefs have yet to make up their minds on proposals to sell up to €50m worth of land at the Montrose base.

Earlier this year it emerged the board of the national broadcaster was considering the sale of up to 10 acres of its land - which is considered prime for development.

It was part of a 'master plan' prepared for Communications Minister Denis Naughten on its management of assets.

Yesterday, RTÉ director general Dee Forbes and its chief financial officer Breda O'Keeffe appeared at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, to talk about the future of funding for the media.

"No final decisions have been made," Ms O'Keeffe said, when asked by members of the committee about the stage of plans to sell the land.

However, she insisted that should it be sold, the money would go to RTÉ's capital spending - not to fund the day-to-day costs of running the broadcaster.

"I would go as far as to say it would be reckless if funding from the sale of lands (would go on day-to-day costs)," Ms O'Keeffe said.

She said the sale of the lands would go towards addressing a capital funding shortfall.

And she also said planning permission has already been granted for the development of a crèche on the site.

Meanwhile, RTÉ boss Ms Forbes told the committee social media sites invest nothing in original journalism - but profit from the work of other people.

Naming sites like Facebook, the national broadcaster boss said they were "investing almost nothing in original journalism or content."

She said the business models of social media sites meant they benefited from the work of others "with little or no compensation" for the original creator of the journalistic work.

"Media organisations are under serious financial strain," Ms Forbes told the committee members.

She said as broadband speeds increase and the price of broadband decreased, the rate of change in media would only accelerate.

But despite the growth of online and digital media, she said around 90pc of viewers still watched live TV.

"Having worked in international media I believe the quality of RTÉ's programming stands up with the best in the world," she said.

Brexit

She said that the broadcaster had an obligation to come up with a new five-year plan, which should be completed by the end of next year.

"We want a plan that is a living and breathing document. We don't want to create a document that's out of date as soon as it's written," she said.

Ms Forbes also addressed the impact of uncertainty in international affairs on revenues.

"Brexit is having a significant impact. As yet, the impact of a Trump presidency is unknown," she said.

Elaborating on her colleague's comments, Ms O'Keeffe said many advertisers were UK based, such as food company Unilever, and they have been more cautious about advertising post Brexit.

But she also said there was the issue that the pound buys fewer euro, making it more expensive for British companies to advertise here.

Meanwhile, the committee was also told that top level presenter fees were now 40pc less than they were in 2008.

"We would have recognised that top level fees were too high," Ms O'Keeffe said.

The broadcaster also committed to continue covering Oireachtas affairs, through 'Oireachtas Report'.

Irish Independent

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