Friday 20 September 2019

RTÉ sought €55m extra a year in funds from State

Group indicated cuts to sports and the regions could follow without support

RTÉ personality Ryan Tubridy with actors Demi Isaac Oviawe and Eileen O’Higgins from two new series, Young Offenders and Dead Still, at the launch of the station’s new season last month. Photo: Andres Poveda
RTÉ personality Ryan Tubridy with actors Demi Isaac Oviawe and Eileen O’Higgins from two new series, Young Offenders and Dead Still, at the launch of the station’s new season last month. Photo: Andres Poveda
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

RTÉ sought a funding rise of €55m per year from the Government to plug its financial shortfall and transform itself into a digital organisation.

It said that with no extra funding, regional services, sports and drama were among the services likely to face cuts, while compulsory redundancies would also be required.

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The group outlined to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) that its preferred strategy for the future was to move to a "third phase" as a public service broadcaster, becoming a "fully integrated multi-media organisation".

This would entail "a significant shift" in spending "from broadcast TV and radio to online", particularly for news services and content for younger audiences.

In a submission on a five-year review of public service broadcasting, RTÉ outlined its plans under two scenarios, one with a funding increase and one with no increase, a so-called 'flat-cash' scenario.

With no additional funding, RTÉ outlined that significant cuts would be required.

Consultancy Communications Chambers analysed RTÉ's plans and said that with no commercial growth likely, it was left with "re-prioritising" services, which it explained meant cutting services. It said this would be "urgent" in the case of no additional funding.

The report said: "RTÉ has not provided details of how the additional spending cuts would be achieved, but has indicated that they might impact areas including contraction in regional activities, sport content, external commissioning, Irish language support, orchestras, special events, archives, genres including drama, arts, education and religion, and 'specialist services'.

"RTÉ states this would likely require compulsory redundancies, and changes to legislation, as it would impact its ability to fulfil its statutory remit in some areas." However, the consultancy said RTÉ had an "understandable reluctance to use involuntary redundancy, which it believes would be damaging to industrial relations and staff enthusiasm".

It said that "were RTÉ to move to abandon this policy and move to involuntary redundancies, this might set a precedent for other semi-State bodies".

The report from Communications Chambers was submitted to the BAI early last year. The authors warned that RTÉ should be supported, as cuts to services would result in a backlash from politicians, unions and the public.

In making a recommendation to the Department of Communications on public funding, the BAI recommended that RTÉ should receive an increase in its annual public funding of €30m.

"In the view of the consultants, RTÉ had not made a sufficient case for the full level of funding suggested (€55m per annum)," the BAI said.

Last month it was announced that while the Licence Fee collection would be put out to tender and a Media Charge would be introduced in five years, no immediate funding increase would be forthcoming.

RTÉ is currently carrying out a wide-ranging internal review, with a cost-cutting plan to be announced in October. On Friday, director general Dee Forbes wrote to staff, saying: "With commercial revenues and public funding both significantly below what is needed to operate the organisation in its current form, our current financial situation is not like anything we have seen before.

"As a result, it will no longer be possible to continue as we are."

In its report, the BAI said RTÉ was and TG4 were facing significant challenges including "a recently-strengthened TV3", which was acquired by Virgin Media and since renamed.

However, the BAI was critical of RTÉ for not providing more details on how it would tackle its funding shortfall.

"While it is the understanding of the BAI that the RTÉ Board discussed a range of options should no additional funding be forthcoming, including the possibility of significant changes to RTÉ's range of services, the options considered were not reflected in the final submissions to the Authority.

"The BAI had expected engagement with RTÉ on the choices facing the broadcaster on the future of its services and platforms, particularly in the absence of increased funding."

It added: "It is unsatisfactory that RTÉ chose not to provide all the relevant information requested by the BAI.

"Without any increase in funding, or if there are any further reductions in RTÉ's funding, the BAI takes the view that cuts to services are inevitable."

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