Sunday 26 January 2020

Finance, output and gender equality on Forbes' list

NEW AGENDA: Dee Forbes, the Irishwoman who is currently head of the Discovery Channel in Europe, has been appointed the next Director General of RTÉ
NEW AGENDA: Dee Forbes, the Irishwoman who is currently head of the Discovery Channel in Europe, has been appointed the next Director General of RTÉ
WOMEN ON TOP: (l-r) Norah Casey, Publisher and Broadcaster; Anne O Leary, CEO Vodafone Ireland; Louise Phelan VP of Global Operations at PayPal and Dee Forbes at Digital Week. Photo: Maxwell
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

RTE's finances, content creativity and gender discrepancies are all set to be on the agenda as the new Director General, Dee Forbes, who cut her teeth on the international market and is currently head of Discovery Channel in Europe, comes home to make her mark.

A source close to RTE explained: "The raison d'etre of the Discovery Channel is to sell content and she will look at making profits over the next few years - that will be her big focus - to sort out the station's finances. The station typically buys in content from abroad but as new DG, she will look at getting good ideas at home and selling them globally.

"Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, Deal or No Deal, First Date, shows like that, all generate big money for the original makers. But Irish TV stations buy shows like this in from the UK and other countries all the time. Dee will want to turn that around. I'll put it this way - creative producers and freelance production companies will be licking their lips at this appointment."

A separate television industry source said the move is widely welcomed by women in the organisation because, they said, women who felt they weren't being rewarded in promotions for their hard work were leaving RTE.

"There have been some positive changes in terms of gender equality in RTE within the last five years. Before this, women were finding it hard to infiltrate the top ranks.

"I know there was a lot of unhappiness over the fact that good, talented women weren't getting the promotions or jobs they deserved. It's the reason some left RTE. But I think that's changing now and it's because those women began speaking out, but it's still a long way off where we need to be."

The roles of RTE Chair, Director General, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Financial Officer are all now occupied by women and improvements have been made at the station.

But some believe there is more work to do.

According to a source close to the appointment, Ms Forbes, who is a native of Drimoleague in Co Cork, is the type of woman "who doesn't pull the ladder in" when she gets to the top.

The source explained: "She will nurture all upcoming talent, both men and women, but she recognizes the need to bring more good women, along.

"People often make the mistake of looking at the talent and the public faces when they are judging gender equality in an organisation but, and particularly in the media, you need to look at the management and staff too.

"The head of RTE 1, the head of RTE 2, the head of News, the head of TV, the head of radio are all men. You will never change women's voices on air until you change the make up of the organisation itself. There is no point in addressing equality in talent unless you are also looking at people making the big decisions too. And Dee has always been big on women in the workplace and everything that covers."

Meanwhile, there has been much speculation that deputy director general Kevin Bakhurst, who applied for the role of DG without success, will now move back to London to continue his career. But a well-placed source close to Mr Bakhurst has poured cold water over the suggestion.

"Obviously, he would have been disappointed he didn't get the job but he is not a rash man. He's very, very smart and I don't think you'll see him go to London because of this."

They continued: "He loves RTE and he loves Ireland and he genuinely really enjoys his job as deputy and he takes it very seriously, he is well liked here and has settled in very well, so I think he will continue on in that respect."

Described as "very warm and affable" by those in her circle, friends say Ms Forbes has a "great dry sense of humour" and a love of Cork where she "returns to reconnect with her soul" each weekend.

Before becoming president and managing director of Discovery Networks Western Europe, Ms Forbes studied history and politics at UCD before moving to the UK in 1989 to begin her career at advertising agency Young & Rubicam.

She spent 14 years with Turner Broadcasting, part of Time Warner, becoming general manager of Turner in the UK and Ireland and left to join Discovery Networks in 2010, where she progressed to manage all commercial and channel activities for Discovery Networks northern Europe's business.

Chair of the Commercial Broadcasters Association in the UK - and a former non-executive director of the Irish Times - she is on the board of children's charity Childline and Munster Rugby.

In the past, Ms Forbes has advocated a strong work ethic and has emphasised that women are often not confident enough, even when they have a higher level of competence in comparison to their male counterparts.

Currently Tatler Woman of the Year, in her first public outing as RTE DG, she is expected to attend the Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) next weekend.

Meanwhile, there was a warm welcome on social media this weekend, with many expressing their delight at the appointment.

Sunday Independent

Also in Business