Wednesday 11 December 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Despite the goodwill of the Toy Show, there'll be no peace or harmony at RTÉ this Christmas'

Taking cuts: Presenters Ryan Tubridy (pictured) and Ray D'Arcy will take a 15pc pay cut. Photo: Andres Poveda
Taking cuts: Presenters Ryan Tubridy (pictured) and Ray D'Arcy will take a 15pc pay cut. Photo: Andres Poveda
RTÉ education correspondent and NUJ representative Emma O'Kelly
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's often joked that when the 'Late Late Show' runs short on guests they do a quick scan of the RTÉ canteen. There was no risk of Ryan Tubridy resorting to such tactics this week. Close to 1.5 million people watched him sing and dance his way through the 'Toy Show' last night.

However, that was probably the beginning and end of festive cheer at the broadcaster. There was a Black Friday offer of 10pc off all food and drink in the canteen yesterday - but everyday seems a bit dark in RTÉ at the moment.

The restaurant is like a microcosm of Irish life, where you can spot 'Fair City' actors mingling with 'Nationwide' researchers and newsreaders chatting to game show hosts.

It's also the epicentre of gossip that of late has been dominated by management proposals to try to save €60m over the next three years.

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When the big plan was announced earlier this month, the station's managing director of news and current affairs, Jon Williams, told a fiery staff meeting that everybody had to pull together to save RTÉ.

In the three weeks since, the opposite has happened, culminating in a small gathering of journalists passing a motion calling for the "indefensible" salaries paid to the country's best-known presenters to be slashed rather than simply cut.

The 'Lord of the Flies' move has led to a mixture of hurt and anger among RTÉ's top earners, who are supported by many who work behind the scenes to make them look and sound good every day.

"The dirtiest cut of all was doing it at the beginning of Ryan's toughest week of the year," said one source.

RTÉ bosses are about to enter formal negotiations with the top earners about pay cuts of 15pc - but the motion called for a salary cap of €207,590 to be imposed.

This would see Tubridy lose more than half of his €495,000 income. Ray D'Arcy would stand to lose €242,000, while Joe Duffy would be €182,000 out of pocket.

It's hardly surprising that such focus has fallen on the "stars". RTÉ chiefs had hoped to pile pressure on the Government for extra funding but ministers instantly deflected by pointing to the pay issue.

On Thursday of last week, around 30 members of the National Union of Journalists decided they too feel the salaries are "exorbitant".

A motion was passed calling for management to "immediately" target the "talent" for bigger savings.

Sean O'Rourke, Marian Finucane, Miriam O'Callaghan, Claire Byrne, Bryan Dobson and Mary Wilson would see themselves as journalists first and presenters second. Some are card-carrying members of the NUJ.

Education correspondent Emma O'Kelly is the focus of much of the ire as she chaired the meeting that took place with the knowledge of the NUJ's Irish secretary.

Undeterred, she went on to publicise the motion with an appearance a day later on RTÉ's own 'Drivetime' show.

She said staff had "no issue with any of the individuals who are on these high salaries". Instead she criticised her employer "for being prepared to pay these kind of salaries".

The situation at RTÉ is far from unique in the broadcasting world. The BBC has been through its own version in recent years after complaints that female presenters were heavily underpaid when compared with male colleagues.

Some men agreed to reduce their demands while a selection of women got pay boosts.

And yet the number of presenters earning £150,000 (€176,000) or more increased from 64 to 75 in the last financial year.

BBC director general Tony Hall has claimed the UK public back high salaries for "big stars" because they are "talented and entertaining".

Likewise, those who support RTÉ's top earners argue they have commercial value and popular appeal.

They are now much more worried about being "vilified" and "thrown to the wolves" than the 15pc pay cut that is inevitable.

Sources argue those attacking them never mention the job insecurity or the lack of sick leave or pension that comes with being a freelancer.

One said what the NUJ members did was "unprecedented and outrageous". "It looks like the NUJ is saying that star presenters are pretty much unnecessary and irrelevant - everybody should be the same," a source said.

There'll be no peace or harmony at RTÉ this Christmas.

Irish Independent

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