Monday 27 May 2019

Michael O'Doherty: Seven questions that RTE boss Dee Forbes must answer

Dee Forbes was strolling in Madrid when she was attacked
Dee Forbes was strolling in Madrid when she was attacked

Michael O'Doherty

RTE boss Dee Forbes was asked to explain the perilous finances of the broadcaster when she appeared before the Government’s Public Accounts Committee.

She put up a robust defence of the organisation, pointing out that non-payment of the TV licence fee was a major problem.

However, many questions were left unasked, meaning some of the easily-addressed issues went unventilated.

If I had been on that committee, here are the (magnificent) seven questions I would have asked Ms Forbes.

1. How can RTE justify its average salary, including pension contributions, of more than €71,000 (a figure that doesn’t even include the well-paid presenters who so often make the headlines)?

Perhaps if it paid its regular staff something closer to the average wage of €34,000, it wouldn’t be in the financial mess that it is.

2. How can RTE justify treating its presenters as contractors, when they would seem to fit the description of employees under just about every employment law test?

Through this cosy arrangement, the Revenue has missed out on the €2m in PRSI contributions that RTE would otherwise have paid in the past 10 years.

Despite the fact that it has been a glaringly obvious anomaly for decades, Ms Forbes has announced that it is only now being reviewed.

3. Why does RTE continue to trot out the line that paying high salaries is necessary because its stars could earn so much more elsewhere?

RTE never gives an example of a former RTE employee leaving the station and securing a better paid job abroad, because there isn’t one.

When they did stand firm and let Pat Kenny go to a rival station, did their ratings drop? No – Sean O’Rourke has held on to all of his radio listenership, at a vastly-reduced salary cost.

4. How can RTE justify 2,000 employees when nearly 10pc of them are on paid career breaks at any time and the company seems to operate perfectly well in their absence? Also, let’s not forget that RTE pays them up to €10,000 to take these breaks.

5. How can RTE complain about its licence fee being too low when it’s almost unique in receiving government funding and advertising revenue?

The only European countries with higher TV licence fees are Denmark and Norway, because it’s their only source of income.

6. How can RTE justify spending €12m a year on two orchestras when one would suffice?

7. How can RTE justify spending €700,000 a year on Aertel, a relic of pre-internet times?

Only 11pc of viewers use it on a regular basis. What’s more, the BBC shut down its equivalent service six years ago. Two weeks ago, RTE said it was trying to cut this cost, but a few strongly-worded letters from TDs put them off.

Oh, and guess what? It’s also under review.


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