Friday 26 December 2014

Who else would even dream of paying them this much?

The RTE 'stars' who are refusing to offer wage cuts could pay dearly further down the line, says Jody Corcoran

Published 01/02/2009 | 00:00

EAMON Dunphy gets €320,000 a year from RTE. He has offered to take a 10 per cent pay cut. That means he will be giving up €32,000 a year, almost the average industrial wage.

Dunphy is to be admired. His fellow 'stars' in RTE should follow his example. Miriam O'Callaghan and Derek Mooney have. But other, bigger names won't. Not yet anyway, not until they are shamed into it. Their ego, which outweighs their talent, may withstand the heat for a while. Not to worry, though, the recession will catch up with them eventually, sooner rather than later.

RTE's advertising income is dropping fast. This is informed guesswork, but next year, or when their current contracts expire, Pat Kenny could be €250,000 lighter; Gerry Ryan could be down €170,000, and Joe Duffy may be €110,000 less well-off. If they are, the licence-payers will not shed a tear. Dunphy's gesture was generous, and timely, as you might expect from a man still with his finger on the pulse. He is paid for a radio show, but primarily he gets his massive sum for being the star of RTE's football coverage.

Dunphy, genuinely, is a star at what he does: he attracts viewers, and listeners, and therefore he attracts advertising. Dunphy is the brand.

Were Dunphy to leave RTE, TV3 would snap him up. Or they would try. The viewers would follow. Dunphy would be missed by RTE were he to walk. He is, as he might say himself, a great pundit, not a good pundit.

Pat Kenny is a good broadcaster, not a great broadcaster; ditto Gerry Ryan, who only occasionally hits greatness. Joe Duffy, to my mind, is not a good broadcaster. In football parlance, he would struggle in the Premiership.

Of all of RTE's 'stars', I can not think of anyone who I would say is great: not Ryan Tubridy, who is good; not Miriam O'Callaghan, who is good. Marian Finucane, perhaps, is great. I like her anyway. My favourite is, or was, Val Joyce; now there was greatness. Gay Byrne, of course, was brilliant.

The point is, if any of the RTE 'stars', excluding Dunphy, were to jump ship, would RTE miss them? I do not think they would, or not for very long.

I rarely watch or listen to RTE. I get a half hour of Morning Ireland and I listen to Lyric FM in the car, which is RTE, I accept, but not as we know it. I also like FM104. I watch very little RTE television. Since Christmas I have been working my way through The Sopranos box set. But this is a matter of personal taste. Many people watch RTE television, and listen to RTE radio. The numbers who do, though, are falling. Take 2FM's 'total audience package': it was down 63,000 listeners by the year end 2008. Yet the advertising rate on 2FM has increased. That can't last. Neither, therefore, will the, frankly, grotesque incomes of its top earners, all of whom supplement their incomes with personal appearances, cutting ribbons.

If Dunphy were not on The Premiership, I would just as easily tune into Match of the Day on the BBC. Alan Hansen is good. That said, I like John Giles too, and Graeme Souness, but Dunphy is the glue that makes it work on RTE.

If Pat Kenny went to Today FM and TV3, would you tune in just to hear him, or Gerry Ryan or Joe Duffy? Maybe, for a while, but it is by no means certain that you would do so long-term. To an extent, it would depend on who they were replaced with at RTE. I like Eamon Keane, of Newstalk. He could easily replace Joe Duffy.

You can be sure of this, though -- Today FM would not give Pat Kenny €849,139 a year, or Gerry Ryan €558,890, or Joe Duffy €367,804, not now, when advertising revenue is sinking fast across all media.

So the recession will catch up with them eventually. When the reduced incomes of RTE's 'stars' is published under the Freedom of Information Act, albeit two years late, there will be unconfined glee. Not because we dislike Pat Kenny or Gerry Ryan or Joe Duffy, but because we dislike the way they are handling this controversy -- this "bullshit" as Gerry Ryan calls it. Pat Kenny saw conspiracy in it somewhere, that calls from politicians for his income to be cut were somehow "not pure".

If they were smart, RTE's 'stars' would do a Dunphy and volunteer a pay cut, for the good PR of it. The licence-payer, in these straitened times, would appreciate the gesture. But they are not very smart.

Pat Kenny said this: "Bear in mind that the taxation system takes most of my salary." Well, the taxation system also takes most of mine, and most of lots of people's pay.

Pat Kenny, of course, also presents the Late Late Show, which accounts for his income being higher than even Gerry Ryan's. Personally, I prefer Jonathan Ross. Ross doesn't deserve the millions he gets. But at least he has had the good grace to accept a BBC cut.

When Gay Byrne retired, RTE retained the Late Late Show brand, which had become more valuable, to advertisers, whoever the new presenter. If, say, Miriam O'Callaghan were to present the Late Late Show, would its viewership drop? I do not think so. In fact, I would say it would increase.

Dunphy said this when he volunteered his cut: "I believe if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk." That is, if privileged State broadcasters can attack politicians for making a mess of the economy, then they should be prepared to do their bit to contribute towards its rescue.

It is not that slashing the pay of Pat Kenny or Gerry Ryan or Joe Duffy will save the economy. But there is symbolism attached, the same symbolism that motivated the Cabinet, the Fine Gael frontbench and Senator Eoghan Harris -- they being the only politicians, so far, to take a cut. How else, with a straight face, can they impose, or call for, tough budgetary measures?

While I am at it, I should say that I, too, have taken a pay cut. Last month, when approached by my employers, I and all of my colleagues here, collectively, volunteered a cut. I will not say that I did not mind, because I did. I do not earn anything like the 'stars' in RTE, even though, pound for pound, the Sunday Independent is a far more successful organisation commercially.

But the alternative was this: colleagues, friends, whom I work alongside, might have lost their jobs had I not voted to accept a pay cut. I might have lost my job. I could not allow that to happen. Neither could Eamon Dunphy.

It is now much cheaper to advertise on RTE television. That is, RTE is selling ads 37 per cent cheaper in January 2009 than it was in January 2008. Pat Kenny, Gerry Ryan and Joe Duffy, and the other 'stars' in RTE have consistently argued that they are paid highly because they attract advertising revenue to RTE. It is an arguable point. The Liveline brand, in my view, is bigger than the Joe Duffy brand, just like The Late Late Show brand is bigger than the Pat Kenny brand.

Let us, for pig iron, then, apply a 30 per cent cut to Pat Kenny's income: He would be down €250,000 a year; Gerry Ryan would be down €170,000; Joe Duffy would be down €110,000. That is well over €500,000. Throw in other RTE 'stars', and the savings would be well in excess of €1m.

That takes us beyond the realm of symbolism. It takes us into the homes of many RTE employees, producers, camera people, lighting people, make-up artists, without whom the show could not go on. How many jobs would be saved in RTE if it had an extra €1m? Quite a few, I would wager.

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