Tuesday 12 November 2019

RTÉ plan may not be as radical as it seems

Stock photo
Stock photo
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

A top Government adviser last year told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a radical rethink of RTÉ might be preferable to pumping in extra cash.

The Government decided last August that it would provide no extra financial support to RTÉ in the short term.

RTÉ's plan to tackle what it has described as a "crisis" in public funding was finally shared with staff last night and contained some big headline action - on the face of it, at least.

There will be 200 job cuts. Fees paid to top on-air presenters will be cut by 15pc. Executives will take a 10pc pay cut.

Some services will also be canned including Aertel, Ireland's teletext services, while the Limerick studio will close. All the measures will reduce costs by €60m over the next three years.

But just how radical is this plan?

RTÉ previously ran a redundancy programme to cut staff numbers by up to 300 people. It only managed to get 160 redundancies, despite the fact that the Department of Expenditure raised concerns that the scheme was too generous.

RTÉ now wants to cut 200 jobs, which is actually just 60 more in total than it had envisaged two years ago.

The big-name salaries really do stick in the craw of ordinary people. But they are a relatively small overall cost in an organisation with costs of over €330m a year.

Unfortunately for ordinary staff who may face cuts and pay freezes, it is the savings eked from their salaries which will be more important for RTÉ's financial health.

The cuts announced last night could have been far worse. The loss of the Limerick studio is a blow to the city, but losing Aertel and the digital radio stations will be far more acceptable.

What RTÉ's plan makes clear is that it still hoping for a solution from Government, primarily through changes to the licence fee. But there has been no budge on this from Government to date.

Will RTÉ's cost-saving plan be enough to convince Communications Minister Richard Bruton and others that now is the time to step in? That seems far from certain at the moment.

Irish Independent

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