Friday 9 December 2016

'We are all worried, upset and very disappointed' - Blathnaid's fears for RTÉ

Sean O'Grady

Published 26/11/2016 | 07:26

Presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh says she has not seen any evidence of a recovery in the
television industry
Presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh says she has not seen any evidence of a recovery in the television industry

Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh has revealed her fears over the future of RTE after the station's controversial decision to outsource its young people's programmes to independent production companies.

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Ms Ni Chofaigh, who is a permanent member of staff at Montrose, said that while some sectors of business may be recovering after the recession, television is still struggling.

"I don't think I'm speaking out of school when I say we're all very disappointed in RTE," she said. "We're all very upset.

"It leaves you feeling a little bit disillusioned. We are worried, we know it's not good. Fingers crossed."

The 46-year-old, who got her start in children's TV hosting Echo Island alongside Dara O'Briain and Derek Mooney, said she worried about viewers' reaction to the move.

Recovery

"It's very disappointing. We were all there [on kids programmes], myself and Derek Mooney and Ray D'Arcy. It's worrying. That's the business. Nothing is full time.

Talk about recovery? There's no recovery in television. It's changing and we have to change with it. I worry about future viewers. If you don't invest in them, why would they invest in you?"

RTE Donnybrook.
RTE Donnybrook.

RTE met with the TUG union yesterday at Montrose and has agreed to enter consultations, meaning the contracts of 15 contractors have been extended until January 31.

However, Adrian Lynch, channel controller for RTE One and Two, would not be drawn on whether this would lead to a reversal of the decision.

There will be no drop in output, but programmes for children and young people will be farmed out to the independent sector if the plans go ahead.

Ni Chofaigh believes the move would not be a good one for the companies who would take over production of the shows because there would be no budget increases for them.

"It isn't really good for the companies, there's no extra budget in that. I don't think it's exciting for anyone really. It's still cutbacks. Of course there's work but it's very disappointing."

The presenter insisted she has no problem with the people who made the decision.

"I have no issue with the person in charge who has to make these decisions, unfortunately we're inheriting problems.

"Things don't just happen in an organisation like [RTE]. There might have been a forecast of this that wasn't spotted. I wonder about it all. When they say the recovery, I'd love to go 'Where?' I'm not seeing it, I'm not feeling it anyway."

Several of RTE's most well-known presenters got their start in children's television, including Sinead Kennedy and Ian Dempsey, who has since moved to Today FM.

Decision

Other presenters on the station like Two Tube's Stephen Byrne have also hit out at the decision.

"[I'm] very upset the RTE Young People's Department is closing. It made me who I am today, on screen and off. Five years of life lessons."

Dustin the Turkey has also rowed into the controversy with some tongue-in-beak comments, comparing RTE to the Titanic.

"The problem is anyone who is good in RTE leaves and then they're left with all the dead wood," he said. "What they have to do is bring back the experts. People who've worked for them.

"We never looked at ourselves as kids TV, we looked at ourselves as family TV, everyone would get a kick out of it. Don't patronise kids.

"I've always said there's only three things RTE aren't good at: television, radio and orchestras. They went on and patronised children instead of having fun with them."

Meanwhile, Mr Lynch admitted the station had to cut costs and make some "unpalatable decisions" in the wake of Brexit.

"You have to step back and go, why was this decision made? We're in an acute financial situation. We can't afford everything we need to do and we need to make decisions. By law, we have to spend €40m [in the independent sector], and that was behind this very difficult decision."

Respect

His comments were made during a hard-hitting interview with Mary Wilson on the Radio 1 teatime show Drivetime, who quizzed him on this week's announcement and the subsequent decision to enter talks with the union.

"We absolutely respect the union's point of view," he said.

Mr Lynch went on to say it is possible RTE will outsource programmes from other departments in the future.

"We will have to make some difficult decisions, particularly if Brexit keeps rolling on."

Mr Lynch said RTE took the decision because commercial income at the broadcaster had suffered in the wake of the UK's decision to leave the EU.

When asked what other areas RTE is looking to outsource, he repeated it would "have to make some difficult decisions if Brexit keeps rolling on".

Earlier in the interview, Mr Lynch said many media organisations were suffering, and that he was aware of a number of companies closing with job losses.

The independent sector has suffered, he added.

RTE once spent €80m in the sector. This figure now stands at €40m, he said.

Despite the financial difficulties, the national broadcaster still wants to lead in the way in terms of their quality news, current affairs, documentaries, entertainment and drama.

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