The proposed cutbacks at State broadcaster RTE are appropriate given a bailout from the taxpayer “would not be a satisfactory solution” according to a Government minister.
Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, said that “there are workers in RTE who are paid more than the Taoiseach, UK Prime Minister and the President of America”.
“That would not appear to be sustainable into the future so RTE need to be like any business and cut their cloth to suit their measure,” she told RTE Radio. “"RTE deserves to be funded as it is a public service but they need to look at their business model," she said.
However Ms Humphreys stance appears to be somewhat at odds with that of the Taoiseach, who said that “reforms and restructuring are needed but also Government will come to the table too”.
"I think it's worth reflecting on the fact that as recently as 2012 or 2013, RTE was breaking even, and even though the money from the license and government has increased since then, its deficit has actually grown,” Leo Varadkar said. “We'd be happy to have discussion with the board about that because we do want to protect RTE.”
“We can come to the table and yes, we can contribute to the solution,” he said, adding that the Government could examine fast-tracking the introduction of a new broadcasting charge to replace the TV licence fee in order to bolster RTE’s situation.
The Taoiseach and Ministers’ comments came amidst a barrage of reaction to the news of the broadcaster’s proposed cuts, which would see its workforce cut by 200 as it seeks to reduce costs by €60 million over the next three years.
As part of the cost reduction the fees paid to contracted on-air presenters would be cut by 15%.
Salaries for the 10 highest paid RTE presenters, who mainly work as contractors rather than staff, added up to 3 million euro in 2016.
Following a lunchtime meeting for members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) a spokesperson said the union sees the cost-reduction measures as “short-sighted and ill-judged” adding “we believe that even if implemented they would not address the current crisis in public service broadcasting”.
They said the NUJ’s members across the broadcaster are “united in their resolve to oppose proposals they believe will only serve to further damage public service broadcasting”, and that the union would oppose any compulsory redundancies.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on communications David Cullinane said that while cuts for top earners were “inevitable”, the other measures announced - including the closure of RTE’s Limerick office and the loss of its digital network are “quite worrying”.
Screen Producers Ireland, the advocacy group for independent film production, welcomed the announcement of the new strategy, but declared itself “concerned at the absence of specifics” regarding the commissioning of content from the independent sector. “Without action from Government no amount of reform will be enough to save RTE,” a spokesperson said.
The leak of the cost-cutting strategy late on Tuesday evening itself caused a deal of consternation, with chair of the RTE board Moya Doherty expressing her “deep unhappiness” at what had happened.
She said that, while the board is “mindful” of the fact the new measures will be “painful” for many staff, nevertheless “radical change is unavoidable”.