Friday 20 October 2017

Major reform at RTE to cut costs includes consolidating Irish services

Irish language assets to be amalgamated while Lyric FM and 'RTE Guide' face 'repositioning'

Eamon Delaney

Eamon Delaney

A consolidation of the Irish language assets of RTE, with an amalgamation of Radio na Gaeltachta, TG4 and the Nuacht news service, is planned as part of the national broadcaster's cost-cutting drive.



It is also planned to 'reposition' the RTE Guide and Lyric FM so as to target new audiences, which may mean taking a more populist approach -- though critics might suggest this may lead to a "dumbing down" of content.

Most TV magazines are now mass market and dominated by coverage of the soaps.

There is also a projected 'drastic restructuring' of 2FM radio.

However, an official RTE source stressed: "The definition of repositioning has been misunderstood. Staff have been reassured that the basic content of their stations will not change. Lyric FM remains a core classical music service, although obviously one facing significant cost challenges."

RTE management are also said to be planning restrictions in a range of work practises regarded as outmoded and expensive, such as having technical crews on constant standby, as well as cutting a range of lucrative staff allowances.

Many work practises in RTE date from the days of heavily unionised demarcation and manning, with expensive overtime for crews working through lunchtime or beyond midnight.

It is understood that a so-called '13-point roster' exists to maintain these rights. There is also the anomaly of the senior editors and producers in Radio na Gaeltachta and TG4 being paid at the same levels as their much busier counterparts in RTE TV in Dublin, an equality explained by the public-sector origins of RTE, which meant treating all its subsidiary sections or departments in the same way, and with the same pay levels.

But the feeling now is that this outdated structuring must be changed.

However, one source in current affairs stresses that RTE staff have now taken two pay cuts, of 7 per cent and 4 per cent, and that, unusually, this puts them on a par with civil servants under the Croke Park Agreement, except that crucially they do not have the pension entitlements of civil servants.

The source identifies the problem with the voluntary redundancy scheme as being that it is availed of by the over-50s, as opposed to the under-50s who have projected and thus costly long-term employment, and whose departure would save more money. But with a scorched jobs landscape, especially in the media, the latter are reluctant to leave the safety of RTE.

However, management will welcome any redundancy, he said. "There is a desperation to save money anywhere."

In the newsroom, management have been looking for 40 redundancies out of a newsroom of 335.

A RTE spokesperson would not comment on the number of redundancies reached, saying that the process was ongoing, but conceded that the station was focussed on a serious cost-cutting drive. "The priority for the station is to reduce its cost base while continuing to focus on all its various activities to increase revenue," he said.

One thorny issue is the station's many regional offices and a possibility that such staff will relocate to Dublin and report through mobile units. Another source said: "There is no justification for an office in Dundalk, for example, when it's just up the road from Dublin."

Sunday Independent

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