Tuesday 12 November 2019

RTÉ Chair denies 'split' with Dee Forbes as she slams tension rumours

Moya Doherty, chairwoman of RTÉ. Photo: Tom Burke
Moya Doherty, chairwoman of RTÉ. Photo: Tom Burke
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

RTÉ Chairperson Moya Doherty has slammed suggestions there is a “split” between her and RTÉ’s Director General Dee Forbes.

Ms Doherty appeared to blame the rumour on an "extraordinary" narrative "around two women" that desires to pit the two women against one another.

In an at times terse and robust interview with Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio One, the board member said she fully supports Ms Forbes and her team.

Raising the issue before Marian addressed it, she said: "I was deeply disappointed to read about tensions between the board and the executive.

"I stood shoulder to shoulder with the Director General - as did many of my colleagues - at the staff meeting. Of course there is robust debate," she said.

"Of course there are deep and meaningful discussions. But there is no split. We support Dee and her team 100pc."

Asked by Marian if there was tension between the pair, Ms Doherty said: "You know what Marian… there is an extraordinary piece here around two women. One woman Chair and one woman Director General."

She added that there "always seems to be the desire to create the story that there is tension."

Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy
Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ. Photo: David Conachy

The radio broadcaster then pointed out: "Well, there could be?"

To which Ms Doherty responded: "I am telling you that there isn’t."

During the course of this morning’s interview, Ms. Finucane also told listeners that she would "engage" in talks to take a pay cut to her €300,617 salary for two weekend radio shows - according to figures released in 2017 detailing the station’s 2016 salaries.

She said: "I got a call… to say that they were going to ask to cut so I said of course I would engage on that, I just want to get that in."

Ms Doherty then pointed out that RTÉ’s top earners "will now - with this 15pc pay cut and the previous 30pc - have taken an overall 45pc pay cut," which she called "substantial."

However Ms Finucane quickly interjected: "Yes but people, I presume, on very, very modest salaries would say ‘tough bananas’ you know?

"And somebody made the point that Dee's [Forbes] car allowance is more than some of the staff in here are paid [per year]," she added.

Ms. Doherty’ replied: "Em… I don’t have that detail but I do think that we must take this out of the granular," she said.

"The executive will look very closely at the granular and deal with the unions and make all of these incremental changes for the future survival and protection of jobs in the public service media."

Asked about recent reports that 200 jobs are going to go in RTÉ, Ms Doherty said: "I am not at an operational level. The chair and the board do not get involved at an operational level."

But when pressed that she must have knowledge of it, she replied: "The management must now start discussion with union to improve and modernise work practices and make efficiencies."

Asked about the station’s ultimate destination, Ms Doherty said: "Nobody has a crystal ball around destination. The cataclysmic change in the industry globally is quite frightening. Right across the media people are losing jobs. It is painful. It is incredibly difficult but we cannot ‘not change’. You stand still and you are history."

On the lack of help from the Government, Ms Doherty said that the national broadcaster has been "starved of funding for a long, long time" and that it is imperative that the station doesn’t "stand back and let Netflix and Sky and all the myriad of others come in and dilute the Irish voice."

"But they are doing it anyway?" asked Marian.

The presenter said: "the truth is the internet is not new anymore" before adding that young people no longer watch television in the way they have done in the past.

Taking one example of RTÉ’s ineffectiveness at staying competitive, the host cited her difficulty when using the station’s on-demand video service, a crucial tool in the age of modern television.

She explained: "I tried three times last night to get something on the player and it wouldn’t work. All I could get were ads, then the ads would finish and then I couldn’t get back into the programme."

She added: "that is a huge part of the way in which people are going to look at the product."

Ms Doherty replied: "There is no doubt that has to be improved and it is being improved and it is very much the focus of the DG and the executive to do that."

Although the presenter made clear she was not at the station’s in-house staff meeting last week, given that she is contracted to her employer, she told Ms Doherty that she understood "there was a big lack of confidence in the management and in your good selves… in terms of leadership."

"Well I am sorry to hear that," Ms Doherty replied, adding, "I think the way this story was leaked was shocking."

When asked how it was leaked the RTE chair said: "I have no idea. A very small number of people had access to that document so I think it shouldn’t be too hard to ask the hard questions. I think it was deeply disrespectful."

To which the host pointed out that - as part of RTE’s role as a public service broadcaster: "we operate on leaks."

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