There is a well-known lesson they teach in the School for Spin Doctors: Get the bad news and the skeletons that have been hanging around in the closet out in the open when a major world event is in progress.
That way it slips down the news agenda and only the really nosy take notice.
We know, of course, that nobody in the national broadcasting service RTÉ was thinking in those terms when it decided to release the figures for the station’s Top 10 earners for 2017, 2018 and 2019 just as Donald Trump slunk out of Washington and Joe Biden strode in.
But why were we still left waiting this long for the 2017 and 2018 figures, unless somebody somewhere in the warren of offices that make up Montrose was feeling a bit queasy in anticipation of the possible fallout from them?
Then again RTÉ would never deliberately sit on a good story, waiting for a convenient moment to titillate the public with the fact their Top 10 pocketed €3.2m just a mere week after announcing it had lost €7.2m. This is the eighth year it has lost lose millions in the last 11 years.
Because there was nobody paying much attention yesterday, who was to pose the question that springs to mind every time RTÉ releases the salaries of its stars Ryan Tubridy (€495,000), Ray D’Arcy (£450,000), Joe Duffy (€392,494) and Miriam O’Callaghan (€320,000): Are they worth it?
They all have varying talents and there is a temptation at this time for lowly hacks like myself (salary 2019: €39,679) to turn into radio and television critics and start singling out who we like and who we don’t. Or worse, to become bitter and twisted and compare these lofty earnings of the RTÉ elite to those of a final year student nurse (like my daughter), who worked in a possibly Covid-contaminated hospital ward in the early stages of the pandemic, for €100 a week.
But we shall resist that temptation.
All things, as highly-paid trade union leaders will tell you, are relative.
So comparing stars like Claire Byrne (€250,000), Brendan O’Connor (€220,000), Bryan Dobson (€209,282) or Mary Wilson (€196,961) with doctors, nurses, fire fighters and carers is gratuitous. (We would have included teachers, but they’ve now beaten a retreat from the front line.)
But we do wonder if any of the aforementioned presenters, with hand on heart, can say they have the ‘X-factor’ or walk down the street and, like the woman in the L’Oréal advert tossing her gleaming mane of hair, say of their massive earnings: “It’s because I’m worth it.”
Maybe so, maybe no!
They live and die by ratings and they can always point to bankers, barristers, footballers and others who are paid far more, some apparently for doing far less. They are all accomplished in their field and could point out to those of us who hanker for the frisson of excitement engendered by Gay Byrne or Gerry Ryan that broadcasting, like the world, has changed utterly.
Broadcasting desperately needs ‘stars’; so they can also point across the water to the BBC where Graham Norton earned £610,000 last year and Claudia Winkleman’s £370,000 for shaking her fringe, and say that in comparison they are paid what they are worth. But such comparisons are odious.
In 2019 RTÉ – one of the few European broadcasting organisations which combines advertising and a licence fee – earned €145.8m in commercial revenue and €196.3m from the licence fee. In real terms the salaries of its staff are paid by the taxpayer, even if what the Top 10 earn is less than 1pc of its operating costs.
RTÉ itself has a long and undistinguished history of ignoring what is going on in the real world, pampering its stars and their agents, even as advertising and audiences diminish. The taxpayer is always there to pick up the tab.
While recognising the national broadcasting service is in a very difficult position due to a dramatic drop in advertising and the new ways people are consuming media, there are serious questions about the management of RTÉ.
The main one is why does it pay 10 people so well, and when is it going to realise it can’t go on selling off chunks of land and being bailed out by the taxpayer forever?
Its presenters demand transparency from politicians, business people and prominent citizens.
Surely it can do better than slip out three years’ of the inflated salaries of its stars in a 3pm newsflash on a day when a lot of people’s attention was otherwise engaged.