Communications Minister only informed of RTE's €60m plan in cuts after leak to media

Communications Minister only informed of RTE's €60m plan in cuts after leak to media

The Minister for Communications was only informed of RTE's final plans to make €60m in cuts after it was leaked to the media.

While the Government "would have had an idea of the approach that was coming forward," Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil that Richard Bruton only received the final restructuring report this morning.

The cutbacks, which will be enforced over three years, include 200 redundancies, pay freezes across the board and a 10% pay reduction for senior management.

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary said there is a "lack of a coherent and cohesive government policy around defending media" and called for immediate action.

"Our entire media industry as a country including RTE is on life-support of your prescription is tea and sympathy," he told the Dáil.

He accused the Government of "completely procrastinating" on changing the defamation laws and bringing in a broadcasting charge to replace the TV licence fee which Mr Calleary said has the highest evasion rate in Europe resulting in a loss of income of around €25m each year.

"RTE is under substantial financial pressure due to falling income from advertising due to changing viewership trends, online trends and global changes, but it has also had quite a substantial lack of engagement from government about its funding model about licence fee evasion and a constant effort on the part of government to kick the can on the road, not to deal with the challenges that it's facing."

Responding, Mr Coveney said:

RTE were not expecting to have to deal with this issue today, it is my understanding.

He said around 1,800 staff who work in RTE should have been informed of the plan internally but instead had read it in the media, which he described as a "huge frustration".

Defending the Government, the Tánaiste said: "Additional funding has been provided to RTE with the allocation of €10 million of additional funding between 2018 and 2019."

Mr Coveney said the TV licence fee collection will soon be put out to tender when the relevant legislation is enacted.

This new system will be in place for five years and after that the TV licence would be replaced by a different charge to take account of the changing way in which people are accessing media.

"It is not appropriate into the medium term to be continuing to pay for public service broadcasting by effectively putting a charge or a license fee on TV ownership when we know that at least 10% of homes, don't have televisions, but are watching content online, whether it's on tablets or iPads," he said.

But Mr Calleary again accused the Government of kicking the can down the road when it comes to overhauling the TV licence.

Mr Brutson said he would be assessing the plan but added RTÉ must transform and evolve to remain vibrant in fulfilling their crucial role into the longer term.

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