RTE told to cover 'vital' VIP visits

CRISIS: Broadcaster 'put under pressure' to spend fortune

CASH-STRAPPED RTE spent hundreds of thousands of euro on the Obama and royal state visits – under pressure from the Taoiseach.

The State broadcaster, which has just announced savage cuts of €25m, warned the Government that it was struggling to pay for covering the high-profile visits.But the broadcaster felt pressurised from individuals within government ranks to splash out on the two events.Senior sources at the station told the Herald that management were under "major pressure" to ensure the events were broadcast to an "extraordinarily high level". The station spent hundreds of thousands of euro on covering the historic first visits to Ireland of President Obama and the queen last May. The spend was incurred when RTE was already in trouble with its finances.

In documents seen by the Herald, RTE director general Noel Curran made it clear to the Government that the station was struggling to be able to afford to broadcast the visits.

In a letter to Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, Mr Curran spoke of how Enda Kenny had made direct contact with RTE, emphasising the importance of the State visits.

"As you know, An Taoiseach has expressed his view to RTE that these visits represent an important business opportunity for Ireland.

"RTE is planning to invest the resources necessary to provide a live pool feed of all major events to the international media," he wrote.

Montrose sources have revealed that management was "under no illusion" that it had to cough up the necessary money -- despite the station's precarious financial condition. RTE has been in deficit since 2008.

The source said: "What option did management have?

"These were historic visits and we were under major pressure to make sure the coverage was to an extremely high standard. We were under severe pressure from the Government to ensure we did a proper job -- and that cost money."

Although RTE has never divulged the full cost of the visits, it is understood the bill for the coverage ran into hundreds of thousands of euro.


Less than a year later, Montrose bosses are now planning swingeing cuts in a bid to save the struggling station €25m by the end of the year.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the financial strain facing RTE was made clear to the Government as far back as April of last year.

The situation was so bleak that executives were even tasked with contacting international broadcasters directly in a bid to persuade them to cough up cash to fund the showing of the two State visits to Ireland.

In his letter to Mr Rabbitte, Mr Curran twice admitted that RTE was asking international broadcasters to share the cost.

Mr Curran told Mr Rabbitte that he had been contacted by Mr Kenny about the visits, adding that the "necessary" resources would be pumped in.

He indicated the following:

- The queen's visit was to prove particularly expensive to broadcast as it was "the equivalent of at least three times the size of previous US Presidential visits".

- Enda Kenny's office had made it clear that these visits represented "an important business opportunity for Ireland."

- RTE was unable to get "commitments" from international broadcasters to put in their own resources.

Montrose chiefs have held meetings to thrash out details of a redundancy scheme.

Fees paid to the station's top stars will be cut. Station sources have admitted that management will go "hell for leather" to reduce a €17m deficit and break even by the end of 2013.