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Thursday 2 October 2014

Noel Curran: No individual settlement will weaken RTE

Director General speaking to Oireachtas Joint Committee

Published 26/03/2014 | 11:20

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Noel Curran , Director General of RTE

RTE director general Noel Curran insisted "no individual settlement" will weaken the national broadcaster work to allow challenging debate in the aftermath of a payout over the 'Pantigate' controversy.

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Mr Curran said RTE was determined to present a wide range of views on current affairs topics.

"We also fully understand that for many people, particularly those who have suffered within this society because of their sexual orientation, homophobia and discrimination is very real," he told Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

"One of the positive outcomes of the recent controversy was a substantial increase in the level of debate around homophobia, equality and same-sex marriage, much of it conducted on RTE programmes. That will continue."

The controversy over 'Pantigate' began after Rory O'Neill - aka Miss Panti Bliss - was interviewed on RTE's 'Saturday Night Show' where he 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.

RTE defended the move, saying the measure was taken following the best legal advice available to them.

Mr Curran warned RTE was "now at a crossroads", highlighting many factors including reduced commercial and public revenue and a ramp-up in competition for Irish advertising from UK television channels.

He pointed out their Five-Year Strategy set-out that Ireland needs a media organisation to compete with "international media and guarantee a distinctive Irish voice".

"Now, with satellite and internet technology, the threat is far greater and multi-faceted," he said, warning Irish drama, investigative journalism, free-to-air sport and Irish-language services would be placed at risk.

He warned that "without action" the factors he flagged can "only lead to a decline" in RTE's relevance with audiences and commercial viability.

The committee heard RTE wanted to invest more in news and science programmes,, and re-open their London bureau The state broadcaster revealed their annual report for last year will report a ""small financial surplus" for the first time in five years.

It pointed out it has been deeply impacted by the downturn with commercial revenues, mainly from advertising dropping by €95m between 2008 and 2013 - a 40pc drop.

In addition public funding levels dropped by €19m - with the recent budget showing a further drop of €5m.

RTE reduced its workforce by almost 500, or 21pc, introduced pay cuts, moved to cut the pay packets of it's star presenters, shutdown it's London bureau, cut costs on programmes and passed on securing the high cost Premier League highlights.

Total staff costs have dropped by a quarter since 2008.

And, it discussed the 'star' pay, with presenters dropping between 21pc and 68pc in negotiations over the last In reference to the move of veteran broadcaster Pat Kenny to Newstalk, Mr Curran said: "As the committee will no doubt  be aware we lost one of our most experienced presenters to a commercial radio station during contract negotiations last summer."

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