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RTE facing ‘serious hits’ to funding streams following payments scandal

RTE facing ‘serious hits’ to funding streams following payments scandal

Minister of state Patrick O’Donovan suggested the broadcaster would experience a decrease in money raised from the licence fee amid public anger about the scandal, while advertising revenues would also suffer.

Mr O’Donovan also signalled support for more systemic changes to the funding and delivery of public service broadcasting in Ireland.

He suggested RTE may have to become smaller and do fewer things as part of a revised funding model, and proposed widening access to public service funding to other rival broadcasters.

RTE operates on a dual funding model, with 55% of its income – 200 million euro a year – brought in by way of the licence fee. The rest is generated through commercial revenues.

RTE pay revelations
RTE presenter Ryan Tubridy (Damien Eagers/PA)

RTE loses 65 million euro annually through licence fee evasion and avoidance, and the broadcaster has called for reform of the collection system.

“Ultimately, the Government is the bank of last reserve here for RTE, because there’s no doubt about it, there’s going to be a serious hit to the licence fee, that’s inevitable,” said Mr O’Donovan.

“There probably will be serious hits as well in relation to commercial revenue that can be gleaned.

“So the Government are going to have to take up the tab and Joe and Mary Public are going to wind up paying for this because it is a fundamental part of our democracy.”

Mr O’Donovan insisted calls for an extension or reform of current TV licence fee arrangements were “dead in the water” following the salary misreporting revelations at RTE.

A Government review of the RTE funding model has been ongoing, but a final decision on the outcome has now been “paused” pending the completion of an external review of governance and culture at the broadcaster, which was ordered at the weekend amid the furore around the under-reporting of the salary paid to its star broadcaster Tubridy.

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The move follows the revelation that Tubridy was paid several hundred thousand euro more than RTE had previously declared.

RTE apologised on Thursday after admitting that between 2017 and 2022 former Late Late Show host Tubridy received a series of payments totalling 345,000 euro (£295,000) above his annual published salary.

On Friday, director general of RTE Dee Forbes was suspended amid the fallout from the controversy rocking the broadcaster.

On Saturday, a senior executive emailed staff at RTE to apologise and inform them that new contracts have been paused pending the implementation of further oversight measures.

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Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Following further weekend media scrutiny, in particular over its financial arrangements with advertising partners, RTE issued a statement on Sunday insisting it was legally compliant in respect of how it operates commission and volume discounts with media ad buying agencies.

“Given this is a competitive marketplace, volume discounts between media buying agencies and media organisations are commercially sensitive and not disclosed,” the broadcaster added.

Ireland’s media minister Catherine Martin announced the external review on Saturday after meeting the chairwoman of the RTE Board, Siun Ni Raghallaigh, in Dublin.

Ms Martin warned that the scale of the issues facing RTE was verging on an “existential crisis” and a “root and branch” review was required.

Speaking to RTE Radio One on Sunday, Mr O’Donovan called for full transparency from RTE.

Executives from the broadcaster have been invited to appear before two separate parliamentary committees in Dublin in the week ahead.

“What we can’t have here now is stonewalling,” said Mr O’Donovan.

“The lid has been lifted here and the sooner we get to a situation where we have full disclosure the better.

“RTE is a fundamental part of our democracy, it is a fundamental part of what it is I suppose that identifies us as Irish people, and it isn’t without its flaws, but that doesn’t mean that it is entirely incapable of being rehabilitated.”

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Mr O’Donovan said it was “a bit early in the day” to say whether anyone should resign over the payments issue.

His comments on RTE’s future funding model drew a critical response from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

RTE pay revelations
Suspended RTE director general Dee Forbes (Brian Lawless/PA)

NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said he was “deeply disappointed” by the minister’s remarks.

“He seemed to think that reform of the licence fee is some sort of favour to RTE rather than a necessary measure to enhance public service broadcasting in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Dooley said politicians must resist a temptation to punish RTE and said the external review “should not be used as a reason to further delay the wider reform of public service broadcasting in Ireland”.

He added: “There needs to be a balance between addressing the corporate governance failures in RTE and ensuring that those who serve the public through their work are given the resources to do so.”

Fianna Fail TD Niamh Smyth, who chairs the media committee that has invited RTE executives to appear before it on Wednesday, said it was important Ms Forbes attended the hearing.

“This is not a witch hunt,” she told RTE’s This Week programme.

“This is not looking for somebody’s head, this is looking for accountability.”

Minister of state Jack Chambers claimed there had been a “web of deceit” within parts of RTE.

“That’s why we need to know who was involved in this arrangement, how it came about, and that there’s full disclosure of any other repeated arrangement with anyone else within the organisation and it’s important that we get that information very quickly from senior levels within RTE,” he told RTE’s The Week in Politics programme on Sunday.

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Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy told the same programme there was a need for total transparency.

“We need to get information directly from RTE, if RTE have information that is in the public interest, they need to be putting that out front and centre,” he said.

RTE has commissioned its own external probe, by auditors Grant Thornton, into the contracts of other higher earners at the broadcaster.

On Friday, Tubridy “apologised unreservedly” for not asking questions when RTE published incorrect figures for his earnings.

He said he would not be presenting his daily radio show on RTE Radio One this week.

On Saturday, interim deputy director general at RTE Adrian Lynch apologised to staff at the broadcaster.

“I want to apologise to you, our staff, for the serious breach of trust that has occurred, and for this failure of corporate governance at RTE,” he wrote in an email seen by the PA news agency.

He said he shared the “shock and anger” of staff.

“This has been a massive breach of trust with the public, and with all of us who have the interest of the public at the centre of our jobs every day,” he wrote.

Ms Forbes was already due to leave her post in July. She is being replaced as director general by media executive Kevin Bakhurst.

  • June 25, 2023