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RTE board defends giving own members contracts worth €2.7m

THE board of RTE has denied it has a conflict of interest after some members received lucrative programming contracts worth €2.7m last year.

The board insisted that the contracts were entered into on normal commercial terms and were in line with the broadcaster's policy for engaging personnel.

In its annual report for 2010, RTE said it bought commissioned programmes worth €2.7m from companies that were owned or controlled by board members or their close family members.

These are understood to include Stuart Switzer, founder and managing director of Coco Television, who was appointed to the board in February, 2010.

His company produced a number of programmes including 'Crimecall', lifestyle show 'Desperate Houses' and also provided live coverage of the St Patrick's Day parade and Skyfest.

Orlaith Carmody, who was appointed to the board at the same time as Mr Switzer, is a former RTE reporter who is now director of a media consultancy. She and her husband, 'Dragon's Den' star Gavin Duffy, are directors of Aerga Productions, which has produced several episodes of 'Capital D' for the state broadcaster, including one in March last year. Meanwhile, film and documentary maker Alan Gilsenan, who was appointed to the board in 2009, is director of 'The Home', a two-part documentary about St Monica's nursing home in Dublin city centre, which was broadcast by RTE last year in September and October.

RTE has said that decisions on individual commissions are not made by the board but by executive management.

Asked if the national broadcaster was satisfied that the board could maintain its independence when some members were selling programmes to RTE, a spokesman said regulations allowed producers of independent programmes to be appointed to the board.

"It would not be in the interest of any public broadcaster, nor the public, for independent producers of experience and skill . . . to be either barred from board service or, if appointed to a board, to be barred from seeking to maintain their business and livelihood by being disallowed from competing for programme commissions," he said.

"In order to secure continuity of normal business, proper arrangements exist to ensure that normal board activity and normal broadcast production and commissioning exist at full arm's length from one another.

"RTE's board operation on the one hand, and its executive process for programme commissioning on the other, are separately drawn up, operated and supervised.

"RTE in its own operation, and in its reporting to the regulator and Government, is satisfied that no conflict exists or would be permitted to exist between these separate and valuable functions," he added.

Irish Independent