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Comment: Licence fee is just bankrolling RTE's bloated workforce



Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy

Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy

Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy

It was her first big speech since taking over as director general of RTE. And embracing the culture of her new employers, it didn't take Dee Forbes long to put her foot in it...

Initially suggesting that the TV licence fee of €160 was such good value that it could justifiably be doubled, Dee quickly backtracked on her claim. "What I was saying," she clarified, "was that the licence fee here in Ireland is incredible value at 40 cent a day."

Central to Dee's claim about the "incredible value" the €160 affords was a direct comparison she made to "the Scandinavian markets where their licence fee is over double that".

It's the type of remark that is designed to make you think that maybe, we've got it wrong.

After all, if Denmark charges €335 a year for a similar service, and Norway nearly €300, then maybe €160 is good value?

And, like many throwaway remarks, further examination reveals it to be, to coin a phrase, total and utter bollox.

Firstly, Ms Forbes curiously omits to mention that some EU countries, such as Spain and Luxembourg, have no TV licence fee at all. Others, such as Portugal (€33), Greece (€51) and Italy (€90) charge significantly less than Ireland.

And while Norway's licence fee does cost €317, the crucial difference is that its state-owned TV stations do not receive advertising revenue.

Denmark, likewise, charges €300 for its TV licence, but again, the channel that receives this relies entirely on the licence fee to run its business. Its other state-owned station, TV2, does run ads, but because of this is specifically precluded from getting any licence fee revenue.

RTE, on the other hand, is almost unique in having two sources of income, as it gets both state money and hundreds of millions in advertising revenue. Yet it continues to rack up huge losses each year.

Rather than holding out its begging bowl to the Oireachtas, perhaps it might look at its bloated workforce, comprising almost 2,000 staff who earn an average of €53,000 a year.

And while a small reduction in that number is being contemplated, Ms Forbes seems to have quickly become ingrained in the RTE culture of inefficiency.

Whining about an underfunding from the State, as though the taxpayer should be obliged to cover inability to run a business efficiently, Ms Forbes is the latest in a long line of RTE bosses to play the blame game.

RTE plans to sell off a chunk of its Donnybrook campus in order to generate up to €40m. The reality, of course, is that they will spend this money in a couple of months, and be back to square one. So I've a more interesting suggestion.

Instead of flogging a few acres of its unused grounds, why don't they divest themselves instead of that patch of the campus which houses RTE management's offices, with the people who run the company thrown in as part of the deal?

With a brand new team of people who actually know how to run a business, maybe RTE will have a chance of surviving.