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Wednesday 3 September 2014

Broadcasters trying to 'lure away' RTE's biggest stars

Louise Hogan

Published 27/03/2014 | 02:30

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Noel Curran,Director General of RTE (RIGHT) and Kevin Bakhurst,Managing Director of News and Currents Affairs and Deputy Director General of RTE following  the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications  at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 26/3/14
Noel Curran

RTE stars are being continuously targeted by commercial broadcasters who hope to "lure them away" in a similar fashion to Pat Kenny, its deputy director general warned.

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Kevin Bakhurst said that the state broadcaster was facing a "constant balancing act on value for money" as he appeared with other officials at an Oireachtas committee.

RTE now insists that a nationwide list would show five of the Top 10 paid broadcasters were now in the commercial sector. But salary levels continued to raise ire at the Oireachtas Communications Committee, as Fianna Fail TD Michael Moynihan described figures quoted for some presenters' pay as "outrageous".

The TD also quipped that the "sky didn't fall in, you have survived the departure" in relation to the signing of veteran broadcaster Pat Kenny to rival commercial station Newstalk.

RTE pointed out cuts to its highest paid stars so far had amounted to a 30pc reduction, and stated they had acted on the back of public concern.

Its director general Noel Curran warned RTE was "now at a crossroads" – highlighting many factors including reduced commercial and public revenue and ramped-up competition for Irish advertising from UK television channels.

RTE warned the number of UK television channels selling Irish advertising had grown by 33pc in the past 18 months – with UTV shortly entering the "already crowded market".

The committee heard RTE wanted to invest more in news and science programmes, and reopen their London bureau. The state broadcaster revealed they delivered a "small financial surplus" last year for the first time in five years.

Meanwhile, Mr Curran insisted "no individual settlement" would weaken the national broadcaster's work to allow challenging debate, following a payout over the 'Pantigate' controversy.

Amid queries on whether RTE had "rolled over" too easily in relation to the recent legal payout at the Oireachtas Communications Committee, Mr Curran stoutly defended the move, stating they were not a "weak organisation" and they have to make individual practical decisions as legal actions in the Four Courts prove costly.

"We are not looking for carte blanche to say what we like," he said, however, on the issue of opinion and figures in the public domain, then "added protections are required" for media.

The controversy over 'Pantigate' began after Rory O'Neill – aka Miss Panti Bliss – was interviewed on RTE's 'Saturday Night Show' and cited particular names – columnists John Waters, Breda O'Brien and the Iona Institute – in relation to a discussion about 'homophobia'.

It later emerged RTE paid financial compensation of €85,000 to Mr Waters, Ms O'Brien and members of the Iona Institute for defamation.

Irish Independent

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