Gaybo: RTE's top stars deserve every penny
They don't have job security, says veteran
VETERAN broadcaster Gay Byrne last night defended the large six-figure salaries paid to some of his colleagues at RTE.
Mr Byrne, the country's top TV and radio star for decades, said the salaries of Pat Kenny, Ryan Tubridy and Miriam O'Callaghan were justified because they worked as freelancers and had no pension rights or long-term job security.
"People forget these are freelance people," he told the Irish Independent.
"There is no pension involved and when they walk down the driveway on their final day in RTE, they have nothing. Nothing.
"Whereas the politicians complaining about presenters' fees all have pensions, index-linked pensions, that doesn't apply to contract workers with RTE," he added.
Mr Byrne spoke out as listenership figures released last night show that Mr Tubridy's radio show on 2fm has been haemorrhaging listeners at an alarming rate over the past year.
Mr Tubridy, who took over from Gerry Ryan in August 2010, has lost 87,000 listeners in the past 12 months, dropping his total to just 175,000 -- more than 40,000 behind his biggest commercial rival, Ray D'Arcy.
The broadcaster has already indicated he is willing to take a pay cut after RTE director general Noel Curran vowed to cut the wages of the station's top earners by 30pc by 2013.
"It's not a good news day for me and I'm not going to pretend that it is anything other than what it is," Mr Tubridy said last night.
"However, I am in fighting form, and believe things are going to get better."
Mr Tubridy earned more than €530,000 in 2008 -- the last year RTE has published figures for. He has since taken over as host of 'The Late Late Show', as well as anchoring his 2fm radio show. His colleague Mr Kenny has indicated that he will dig in against the proposed 30pc pay cuts.
Mr Byrne said: "People get very excited about presenters' fees, but they forget about the pension that doesn't come, the lump sum that doesn't come, the company car that doesn't come, etc. These presenters get none of these things.
"At any point somebody can suddenly decide 'we've had enough of you'," he added.
"You are yesterday's man. In showbusiness, you are not only being paid for the work you're doing now, you are also being paid for the work you might not get in the future."
Mr Byrne (77) spent 23 of his years at RTE working on renewable three-month contracts.
"It was at a time when 'The Late Late Show' and my radio show were money-printing machines for RTE but I never had an opportunity to negotiate a penny.
"Every three months a contract was put in front of me and, if I didn't sign it, I would be off the air. It wasn't until the prospect of commercial radio and TV came over the mountain that RTE decided they couldn't afford to lose Gay Byrne that they made me a better offer. In 1983 I got a two-year contract, which was unheard of at the time," he said.
RTE is expected to release details of the fees and salaries paid to its 10 top-earning broadcasters in the coming weeks.
Figures from 2008 show that Mr Kenny earned more than €950,000, followed by the late Gerry Ryan on almost €630,000 and Marian Finucane on €570,000. Others included commentator George Hamilton on €219,833 and journalist Sean O'Rourke on €218,656.
The majority of the top earners are classed as 'contractors' and are not RTE employees. Others, such as Mr O'Rourke and Derek Mooney are RTE employees.
Mr Byrne said this could also present difficulties. "The difficulties staff presenters face is that you can be moved around at will. You can be told your show is over, and we are signing you on to something else, and it might not be something they want to do," he said.