Monday 11 November 2019

RTE would rather cover 'pigs flying up O'Connell Street' than rural Ireland issues - Oireachtas Committee hears

National broadcaster under criticism over its focus on regional issues

Kevin Bakhurst: News chief. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Bakhurst: News chief. Photo: Tony Gavin

Niall O'Connor

RTE would choose to cover "pigs flying up O'Connell Street" over issues affecting Rural Ireland, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.

The national broadcaster has today come under criticism over its focus on regional issues, alleged political bias and the fees paid to its top presenters.

RTE bosses were forced to defend the level of coverage given to rural affairs amid claims the station focuses too heavily on Dublin.

Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan claimed the station would choose to cover "pigs flying up O'Connell Street" over a cultural event in his home city.

But RTE Deputy Director General Kevin Bakhurst insisted the station's editorial team is keenly aware of the need to adequately cover events outside of Dublin.

He said issues such as pylons and wind farms are two examples that have been covered extensively.

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Committee on Communications and Transport heard that RTE would run the risk of losing some of its most talented presenters if it published full details of their pay and conditions.

Senior RTE bosses defended the fees paid to its highest earning presenters, which were described as "obscene" by one Government TD.

Mr Bakhurst said several presenters have been offered more money by rival stations in the past 12 months but decided to remain at Montrose.

"They are a public face and they are demand from other organisations, it's a competitive market," he said.

"Several people have been offered jobs elsewhere in the last 12 months that I'm aware of. They were offered more money. They have chosen to stay with us because they believe in what we do, and they are well paid by us, but they were offered more money elsewhere," he added.

Several deputies expressed their disgust at the size of presenters' salaries and said more transparency is required surrounding pay scales.

Mr O'Donovan said the level of presenters pay has had to be "dragged out of the company".

He said people are being asked to pay the exact same amount for an "unlimited supply of water" and yet figures show that people have "turned the dial" and are now listening to local radio.

Labour TD Michael McCarthy took issue with well paid presenters interviewing people who have suffered pay cuts or been made redundant.

"It is obscene in the extreme. Not least because of the economic torture that has been inflicted on many hard pressed households in recent years," he said.

RTE executives also rejected accusations from committee that the station has displayed bias during political programmes.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan claimed that his party had no representation during six consecutive 'Claire Byrne Live' programmes.

But the station's representatives insisted that there is "no editorial bias whatsoever", adding that the use of guests on television and radio programmes are dealt with carefully in order to achieve balance.

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