In a note to staff, RTE director-general Dee Forbes warned that the broadcaster's financial situation was unlike anything it had seen before.
The RTE spokesperson defended the decision to organise the corporate trip, saying: "As an organisation which is dual-funded by both licence fee and commercial revenue, on a broadly 50/50 basis, RTE is obliged to generate commercial revenue to fund its public service output. As a rights holder for the Rugby World Cup in Ireland, RTE must maximise all opportunities to generate revenue from sponsorship and from commercial minutage attached to the broadcast of the 14 games RTE has rights to, including all of Ireland's games.
The statement added that, "as is standard" for such tournaments, "RTE has partnered with a number of agencies and clients to allow a small number of commercial partners who continue to support our business to attend the opening game in Japan. This trip is cost-neutral, with accommodation and transport secured on a contra basis."
However, a senior advertising industry source told the Sunday Independent that 'cost-neutral' and 'contra basis' does not necessarily mean RTE will not incur a cost.
"For people who don't understand this at home, this is effectively commercial speak for a barter system. Contra means a barter," the source said.
"The question RTE now need to answer is, have they gone to an airline, for example, or any other company and swapped flight tickets or any other 'freebie' in return for valuable airtime? If this has happened, then RTE are losing out on advertising money that they desperately need in the time of a financial crisis.
"With job lay-offs, salary cuts and property sales, it is hardly the appropriate time to be organising a rugby trip like this at the other side of the world. Apart from anything else, it is terrible optics. You would have to wonder if the DG is aware of it.
"And if they are trying to say that, because agencies bought airtime around the World Cup, that they need to go and see the match - they don't. That would be like saying when I buy a car, that I have to go to Japan to see how it's made."
But one executive who received an invite for the trip defended RTE's decision to fly out the four guests. "This is something that happens throughout the media and other industries where there is corporate activity when it comes to sporting engagements," they said.
"RTE, like every business, is engaged in relationship management and building with customers and you could argue that it is important for RTE to maintain good relations with people who are spending money with the organisation.
"It is normal activity in business for people to be invited to various sporting events no matter what economic challenges they are facing and it is not specific to RTE - all of RTE's competitors do this all the time.
"It is extraordinary over the years the number of invites that are sent regularly and RTE is not doing this on its own. Every single media organisation invites people to events."
In response to the news this weekend, Fianna Fail communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said: "It beggars belief that RTE would take advertising industry executives to the other side of the world when the company is on the brink of extinction with losses of €13m a year.
"Staff have been threatened with lay-offs and pay cuts, the audience has been warned about the closure of Lyric FM and the cutting of other services, so this looks like the classic case of RTE being disconnected from reality while the foundations of the company are crumbling at home."
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