Sunday 15 September 2019

We can no longer continue as we are, RTE boss warns

National broadcaster to 'reassess everything' and will introduce cost-cutting plan next month

Dee Forbes, RTE director general
Dee Forbes, RTE director general
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

RTE warned the broadcasting regulator that it could be forced to make compulsory redundancies if it did not receive an increase in funding, according to documents seen by the Sunday Independent.

The broadcaster indicated that if no extra public funding was forthcoming, several services could face cuts including "regional activities", sports content and educational and religious content.

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Consultants tasked with evaluating RTE's position said RTE would need support if significant cuts were required as there could be a political, union and audience backlash to such cuts in services, while advertising revenue could also take a hit. They said this would be a risky approach and therefore recommended extra funding.

The documents detailing RTE plans reveal the broadcaster sought a €55m funding boost for an ambitious plan to transform the organisation into a multi-media organisation, diverting money from TV and radio into online. This would have brought its exchequer funding close to over €240m a year.

However, last month the Government announced that while the licence fee collection would be put out to tender and a media charge would be introduced in five years, no immediate funding increase would be forthcoming.

Last Friday RTE director general Dee Forbes told staff that RTE's current financial situation was "not like anything we have seen before. As a result, it will no longer be possible to continue as we are", she said.

A cost-cutting plan is to be announced next month.

A key part of RTE's preferred strategy was "a significant shift in budget from broadcast TV and radio to online".

RTE submitted two plans to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) - one outlining a scenario in which it got a funding boost and one in which it received no extra money.

British consultants Communications Chambers submitted an analysis of RTE's plans to the BAI early last year and warned that RTE would have to make significant cuts in a no-funding situation.

But the report said cutting some of RTE's output could be required even with additional funding, flagging that in any scenario, RTE could have to make 'hard choices'. "Cuts are likely to be contentious, potentially raising political and union opposition, as well as complaints from existing audiences," said the report.

"RTE states this would likely require compulsory redundancies, and changes to legislation, as it would impact its ability to fulfil its statutory remit in some areas," it said.

The consultants said should RTE require a 'radical review', it "might also find itself forced to use involuntary redundancy, in order to effectively and rapidly target cuts".

When contacted by the Sunday Independent about potential cuts to the pay of the broadcaster's top ten highest earners, such as Ryan Tubridy and Ray D'Arcy, RTE said it could not "comment on specifics" and then referred us to the director general's note to staff that stated: "[RTE] has been reassessing everything we currently do and what we can continue to do in the future."

There was no comment from RTE on the consultants' report.

Sunday Independent

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