Pat Kenny: Trading in the devil you know for the devil you don't
Compared with RTE, Newstalk is an infant child – so why make the leap into the unknown? Pat Kenny explains
It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever faced: should I spend the next few years at RTE or at Newstalk? It's been characterised in some quarters as a choice between the comfort and security of the semi-state sector and the uncertainty of the independent commercial world. But that wasn't it at all.
Since I left the staff payroll of RTE more than 30 years ago and launched myself into a freelance career, I have existed in the commercial world. Quite simply it means that you're only as good as your last show or series. Instead of guaranteed continuity of employment, every contract has to be hard won. It's easy when you're top of the ratings, tough when you're mid-table. When you're not on air, you don't get paid. If you fall ill, you don't have sick leave. And freelance women who are pregnant, like my Prime Time colleague Claire Byrne at the moment, they have their babies on their own time. There's no statutory maternity leave for them. If you want a pension, you fund it yourself. The freelance life keeps you on your toes!
Admittedly, the rewards can be great, but so too are the risks. You are always at the mercy of a new Controller of Programmes or a scheduler who can ensure you get lousy ratings by putting your show in a graveyard slot. And poor ratings can mean no contract renewal. In all my time working at RTE, I have never met any of the top freelance talent, be they Gay Byrne or Gerry Ryan, who felt secure in their positions. So Newstalk or Radio One, RTE One television or TV3, for a freelance broadcaster, the same sort of terms and conditions apply. Freelance broadcasters simply move their insecurities around the marketplace.