Saturday 24 February 2018

RTE told to cut more costs or lose extra funding

Bob Collins, chairman of the BAI

Brian Hutton

RTE must come clean on where it can make more savings, its official watchdog warned today.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has dismissed suggestions from the State broadcaster that it can not make any more cutbacks.

The authority has asked the Government not to provide any extra public funding to RTE until it reveals more cost-cutting measures.

Bob Collins, chairman of the BAI, said he recognised the station's austerity measures to date and that "eaten bread can be quickly forgotten".

But he added a number of consultants have flagged up more potential savings - including staff costs and programme-making.

"It is an issue that needs to be dealt with and cleared so we can then identify the amount of such savings that can be realised and move on," he said.

"We don't have a list of savings that we believe can be made.

"There's a whole range of areas where savings can be made, whether in programme-making cost and personnel costs.

"There's a whole range of legacy costs RTE has by virtue of being where it is, as it is. Not all of those can be easily dealt with."

RTE Director General Noel Curran revealed recently that none of the station's star presenters will earn more than €500,000 after its latest round of cutbacks.

The hard bargaining on contracts for its 'Top 10' pool of talent means current affairs star Pat Kenny -- who is facing negotiations this year -- looks likely to lose more than €100,000 off his pay packet.

Admitting the monies paid to some of the country's best-known presenters in the boom years were "over-inflated",

Mr Curran said when the latest round of negotiations was completed, there wouldn't be "anyone earning over half-a-million".

Figures from RTE show that 'Prime Time' and radio presenter Pat Kenny's salary dropped from €950,976 in 2008 to €630,000 in 2011.

'Late Late Show' host Ryan Tubridy topped the table with a salary of €723,500 in 2011. But, he has already agreed to a 32pc cut, with his fee dropping to €495,000.

RTE, which receives around €180m a year from the licence fees money and commercial revenue, revealed it was on course to record a €60m deficit this year.

Salaries for contract staff will have fallen by 40pc by the time negotiations are finished, from the boomtime years, RTE said.

Mr Collins made his remarks today after publishing the latest independent review into RTE as well as the BAI's own five-year plan for handing over public money to the broadcaster.

The independent report said RTE should not get any extra public funding.

But the BAI dismissed this and called for further money to be handed over on the condition RTE cuts costs, outsources more programmes and frees up more advertising for commercial rivals.

It has also called on the broadcaster to develop more home-grown Irish shows.

The Government has ordered its New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewEra) to immediately examine where the savings can be made.

Michael O'Keffe, BAI chief executive, added to the call for more savings.

"RTE would have given a view that all the low-hanging fruit, to use a cliche, has been cut," he said.

"Our consultants wouldn't necessarily have agreed with that but they did say they required further work to be done in that area."

As part of the five-year plan, RTE is being told to explore if it can reduce costs by outsourcing more programme-making to independent producers.

But the broadcasting watchdog said more clarity was needed on the difference of costs between in-house and outside programme-making.

Plans also include a cap on RTE advertising so commercial broadcasters such as TV3 and Setanta can get more of their share.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte revealed yesterday that the licence fee should be replaced by the end of next year with a broadcasting charge which will be payable by every household in the State.

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