Saturday 25 October 2014

Kevin Myers: Flaws at RTE show licence fee we pay just isn't worth it

Published 28/12/2012 | 17:00

THE ruins of 2012 lie all around us like the suburbs of a Syrian city, and in the rubble may be seen the remains of the grisly fiction that is public-service broadcasting – not just in Ireland, but in these islands.

RTE Sports celebrated the end of the year quite splendidly, switching to an advertisement for L'Oreal (because you're worth it) just as Katie Taylor was about to accept her award for Sportsperson of the Year (because she apparently wasn't).

The national broadcaster, which is sustained by a mandatory poll tax on all owners of television sets, also managed to prematurely bump off the Catholic Archdeacon of Cork, Michael O'Brien, in its list of sports personalities who, during 2012, had heard life's final whistle.

And to ensure we all understand that different rules apply in Montrose, viewers of the last episode of 'Homeland' missed the final, utterly crucial few minutes because RTE technicians had neglected to programme it correctly. Oops. Never mind.

But perhaps we should be grateful. RTE might have made Katie Taylor the archdeacon of Cork, (thereby settling the issue of women priests for good and all), declared 'Homeland' to be the RTE Sports Personality of the Year and turned Michael O'Brien into a female welterweight boxer.

And it really wouldn't matter either way, because there'd probably be no consequence for whoever got it wrong.

So today, maybe the Angelus is going out at 3.33pm and rather than seeing live news footage of the tsunami abolishing Galway and turning Longford into a coastal county, let's turn instead to the Chanel advert, starring Brad Pitt. Except, of course, in the Lala-land of RTE, Brad Pitt is probably a sand and gravel quarry in Yorkshire, while Chanel 5 is the one that comes after TG4.

Not altogether surprisingly, RTE's head of sport, Ryle Nugent, tweeted an apology for the station's blunders. Rather telling – was it not? – that he should choose to communicate via what is, in essence, a rival medium. Perhaps the only way of getting noticed.

Of course, RTE knows all about tweets: its ineptitude allowed a bogus tweet to transform the presidential election totally. Had this happened in Egypt, a million people would have filled Tahrir Square. But in poor bloody Ireland, it merely caused a broken people to sigh and turn over to Chanel 5.

The quite amazing thing about RTE is that after giving redundancy packages to 420 people, some 1,800 still work there. What do they all do? TV3 manages to get by with a staff of about three, plus a couple of asylum seekers who pedal the generator and a chap with a kettle and a primus stove who manages to double as commissionaire, gardener, security guard, director-general and head of news. And frankly, I don't care whether TV3 lives or dies: either way, it's costing me nothing, whereas we all have to subsidise RTE's many extravagances.

George Lee doesn't like life in the Dail? Give him a safe berth back in Montrose! Charlie Bird is lonely in Washington? Bring him home! Marian Finucane earns more than Obama for two radio programmes a week? So what?

This cannot continue. And nor indeed can RTE's role model, the BBC, which is now rapidly sinking into a slough of complacency, greed and ineptitude. Redundancy payments in the corporation actually doubled in 2010-2011 to £58m (€70m), which means of course that they were paid an astonishing £30m (€36.5m) in 2009. Included in the 2010 payoffs were 14 'executives', who each got over £300,000. The outgoing director of journalism, Mark Byford, aged just 52, received a £949,000 pay-off, plus an annual pension of £330,000.

But perhaps blue riband for public-service self-service came this year from George Entwhistle, the Lady Jane Grey of broadcasting. Instead of losing his head for screwing up after just 54 days as BBC director-general, as poor Queen Jane did following her nine days on the throne, he was given a £450,000 golden handshake, plus another lifelong pension. (Typical. Where is Bloody Mary, just when you need her most?) By the way, like RTE, BBC also makes television programmes, and in both cases, almost none of them are worth watching.

TO be sure, within the broader RTE stable, TG4 has done brilliantly well; its location in Connemara, away from the sinks and stews of Montrose, is clearly justified (and thereby utterly disproving my criticisms of its siting when it was first started). But overall, RTE's programming returns are far too small for the licence fee that we pay.

Meanwhile, the broadcasting market place is corrupted hopelessly both by these subsidies and by the unique cultural and political power that RTE thus enjoys. But where are the politicians that have the vision and the courage to do the historically overdue thing and to privatise RTE completely? Well, they're about as invisible as Katie Taylor was when she received her award as RTE Sportsperson of the Year.

Irish Independent

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