Wednesday 23 October 2019

Michael O'Doherty: Will RTE ever stop pleading poverty?

One step beyond: Fred Cooke and Giulia Dotta put on a great show in ‘Dancing With The Stars’ but missed out on the final. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
One step beyond: Fred Cooke and Giulia Dotta put on a great show in ‘Dancing With The Stars’ but missed out on the final. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Michael O'Doherty

RTE whining about its funding is nothing new, with the broadcaster frequently claiming it can’t survive due to the lowly €160 it charges for its licence fee.

It often says that unless it gets an increase in the fee, it can’t guarantee being able to maintain its output of home-produced shows.

It’s rather like a morbidly obese person who complains they can’t afford the tons of food they like to eat, considering the cure to be more money to buy food rather than perhaps cutting down on the mountain of junk they shovel down their throat.

RTE’s problem is not income, it’s expenditure. Its bloated wage bill is a disgrace.

Finale: Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne on Dancing With The Stars
Finale: Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne on Dancing With The Stars
Week nine: Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne during Dancing With The Stars

I’m not talking about the dozen or so highly-paid stars.

The average RTE employee earned €71,610 in 2017, and nearly 10pc of those on the payroll didn’t turn up for work anyway as they were being paid to take a “career break”.

However, the national broadcaster now has an unlikely ally in its campaign to have more taxpayers’ money thrown at it.

In an exercise in scaremongering that Donald Trump would be proud of, the company behind Dancing With The Stars, Shinawil, warned that the show might have to be cancelled unless RTE gets an increase in its licence fee.

The producers sounded like they were reading a press release prepared by RTE itself.

“It is impossible for RTE to keep delivering the level of output,” they claim, “with a reducing amount of money.”

It’s a classic exercise in misinformation. RTE doesn’t have a “reducing amount of money”.

What it has is the same amount of money with rising costs each year.

Rather than deal with the costs – the biggest of which is staff wages – the lazy solution is to throw more public money at the problem.

The main difficulty, according to Shinawil, is the cost of accommodation, saying: “We have so many people involved that we have to fly in from all over the world. You have to get very expensive short-term accommodation.”

Of course, accommodation isn’t the biggest factor.

It’s probably a small fraction of the show’s overall costs, but as the high cost of rented accommodation is currently in the news, it’s an easy excuse to wheel out.

Without naming them, and bearing in mind that the presenters and contestants are all Irish, Shinawil is obviously talking about the dancers.

DWTS is a huge success, and superbly run.

However, the irony that this “home-grown” programme should be at risk because of the cost of flying in participants from abroad seems to be lost on the producers.

RTE needs to get its finances in order, but in the meantime, maybe Shinawil can address this relatively minor issue?

If it’s beyond its abilities to find a solution, let me do it.

With the greatest respect to the current crew, who do a great job, why not hire only Irish dancers? There, that’s the next series sorted.

Herald

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