RTÉ senior management has warned that the broadcaster faces continuing financial challenges in the coming years as it struggles to grow revenue from advertising and licence fees.
However, the station has vowed to return to a break-even position by 2013, despite reporting a deficit of €16.8m last year.
RTÉ chairman Tom Savage said cost reduction had become the “watchword” at RTÉ as a result of the collapse of commercial revenue and the erosion of public funding.
Although RTÉ has cut its cost base by €86m since 2008, Mr Savage said cost control was no longer enough: “The scale of the problem calls for a fresh vision of how a national public service media organisation should serve Ireland in the coming years.”
Mr Savage said the station needed to be more open in future to partnerships and alliances with other public agencies, as well as bodies involved in cultural, technological, commercial and community-based interests.
Despite an €8m reduction in advertising income to €167m which left RTÉ with a net deficit of €16.8m, Mr Savage said the result must be seen as “a creditable performance in the circumstances”.
The RTÉ chairman said the broadcaster would have reported a small surplus but for the impact of the 2010 budget and broadcasting legislation which cut the income received from TV licence fees.
Mr Savage was paid €31,000 in fees last year — the same as 2010.
Mr Savage said maintaining the highest editorial standards was a prime value for RTÉ and for its investigative journalism.
However, he acknowledged that the Prime Time Investigates programme which libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds “gravely damaged” its reputation in that regard.
Mr Savage reiterated the station’s “full and unreserved” apology to the Co Galway-based cleric.
Mr Savage, who faced calls for his own resignation over his handling of the controversy, said the RTÉ board was determined to take all necessary steps to restore confidence to the station’s investigative journalism. “It is the most difficult form of journalism and serious risks attend it, as this experience shows,” he remarked.
RTÉ’s annual report for 2011 described the controversy as a “low point in our current affairs broadcasting history”.
RTÉ director general, Noel Curran also accepted that the public’s trust in the station had been damaged by very serious editorial failures in the Prime Time Investigates programme.
He repeated that the defamation of Fr Reynolds should never have happened and was a matter of huge regret for everybody within RTÉ.
Mr Curran also referred to the controversial Frontline presidential debate which the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland deemed had been unfair to independent candidate, Seán Gallagher.
The director general said he had apologised to Mr Gallagher on behalf of RTÉ and the station had subsequently put in place clear guidelines in relation to the use of social media in live programming.
In his review of 2011, Mr Curran, expressed satisfaction that RTÉ had consolidated its audience share in TV, radio and online markets given it had implemented cost cuts of €12.1m during the year.
Mr Curran, who earned a basic salary of €229,000 last year plus pension contributions of €58,000, said it was a considerable achievement given RTÉ had been going through a period of significant restructuring.
He said over the comming years the broadcaster would have to deliver existing and new high quality digital media services, while continuing to cut its cost base: “These are huge challenges which will see a different RTÉ emerge in the coming years [but we are] on the right road.”
Mr Curran said RTÉ had cut its operating costs by 20% since 2008 compared to average cost cuts of 6% across the public sector.
He said the challenge for RTÉ was to ensure it continued to act as a public good, accessible to all, trusted, and relevant to Irish people.
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