Friday 15 November 2019

Samantha McCaughren: 'RTÉ wants to reduce costs by €60m over three years, but just how radical is this plan?'

RTE: File photo
RTE: File photo
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

A top Government advisor last year told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a radical rethinking of RTÉ might be preferable to pumping into extra cash into the organisation.

Whatever the reason, the Government took the view last August that it would not provide extra financial support to RTÉ in the short term. And so staff and Government officials alike have awaited a plan from RTÉ to tackle what it has described as a “crisis” in public funding.

The plan was finally shared with staff last night and contained some big headline action – on the face of it at least.

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There will be 200 job cuts. Fees paid to top on-air presenters will be cut by 15pc. Executives will take a 10pc pay cut.

Graphic RTE cuts
Graphic RTE cuts

Some services will also be canned including Aertel, Ireland’s teletext services, while the Limerick studio will close.

All the measures will reduce costs by €60m over the next three years.

But just how radical is this plan?

READ MORE: 'Challenges are real' - RTÉ to slash 200 jobs with some of biggest TV and radio stars to get 15pc pay cut

In terms of headcount, RTÉ previously ran a redundancy programme to cut staff numbers by up to 300 people. Announced in 2017, it only managed to get 160 redundancies, despite the fact that the Department of Expenditure raised concerns that the scheme was too generous. RTÉ now wants to cut 200 jobs, which is actually just 60 more in total than it had envisaged two years ago.

The big name salaries really do stick in the craw of ordinary people. But they are a relatively small overall cost in an organisation with costs of over €330m a year.

Director general Dee Forbes. Photo: INM
Director general Dee Forbes. Photo: INM

Unfortunately for ordinary staff who may face cuts and pay freezes, it is the savings eked from their salaries which will be more important for RTÉ’s financial health.

RTÉ and others have warned that it would have to make difficult choices with no Government funding and it had been expected that the broadcaster would be forced to cut services as the media landscape shifts to digital.

The cuts announced last night could have been far worse. The loss of the Limerick studio is a blow to the city, but losing Aertel and digital radio stations will be far more acceptable.

What RTE’s plan makes clear is that it still hoping for a solution from Government primarily through changes to the licence fee. There has been no budge on this from Government to date.

Will RTE’s cost saving plan be enough to convince Communications Minister Richard Bruton and others that now is the time to step in? That seems far from certain at the moment.

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