Measures floated by management include end to ardfheiseanna coverage Bruton says top earners must show leadership and RTÉ must balance costs
A Government report on RTÉ supports the station’s view on urgent changes:
A Government-commissioned report of RTÉ’s financial state, which was urgently ordered in August, supports the station’s management’s view that urgent changes are necessary.
The examination by NewERA, the State’s financial and commercial advisory body, was given to Minister for Communications Richard Bruton this week.
On Wednesday night, after The Irish Times reported online that the broadcaster was planning substantial job cuts and a 15 per cent pay reduction for its highest-earning presenters, RTÉ management told staff that 200 jobs will need to go; ¤60 million will need to be cut from spending and widespread work-practice changes need to be made across the station.
A spokeswoman for Mr Bruton said the NewERA report was commissioned by the Minister “to support the Government’s response to the revised RTÉ strategy” and is “being considered”.
Privately, RTÉ figures believe it supports management’s view that urgent changes are necessary, but, just as importantly, that the Government must agree to changes to the licence fee.
Separately, Mr Bruton said he had raised concerns about the pay bill for RTÉ’s top stars in talks with RTÉ’s director general, Dee Forbes and the broadcaster’s board.
The proposal contained in this week’s hurriedly-published strategy document saw RTÉ respond with proposals for a 15 per cent cut in pay to top earners, he said.
“They have recognised this is part of the solution. There does need to be leadership from those in high-paid positions. But ultimately they have to do the balancing act.
“There is no doubt it will be argued that some personalities attract additional commercial revenue because of their activities. So they have to balance that,” the Minister said.
“But they have recognised that some of the pay levels are too high and are doing a restructuring and have committed to cut those salaries.”
Plans to put collection of the licence fee out to tender could see the level of evasion fall from 14 per cent to seven per cent and this could generate significant additional resources for RTÉ, he said.
Meanwhile, abolishing live coverage of political party conferences and ardfheiseanna, including prime-time television slots for leaders’ speeches, has been raised as a prospect by RTÉ management.
Jon Williams, managing director of RTÉ News and Current Affairs, suggested in private that the move could save ¤250,000, which could be used to hire journalists.
In a statement, an RTÉ spokeswoman said last night it “is not ceasing political party conference coverage” but it intends to review the live coverage of such events.
“In the last year or so, RTÉ News and Current Affairs indicated to the main parties that it was proposing to review the existing conference live coverage, and that if any changes were introduced, they would take effect after the next general election. No final decision has yet been made.
“Any saving from any possible changes to how RTÉ provide live conference coverage would be significantly less than the figure alleged.”
Over recent months, senior figures in RTÉ have given briefings to sectors of the organisation, even before this week’s announcement. Mr Williams made his suggestion in one of these meetings.
Management and unions in RTÉ will meet next week. The National Union of Journalists said the proposals are short-sighted and ill-judged. Siptu doubted 200 voluntary redundancies could be found. Compulsory lay-offs would be resisted, it said.
A member of RTÉ staff leaving the building after Thursday’s staff meeting.