RTÉ looks to offset ad losses with licence fee hike

RTÉ is seeking an increase in the TV licence fee, despite predictions by the station’s management that it will break even financially this year.

The Irish Examiner has learnt that RTÉ has requested the Government to sanction an increase on the current €160 fee for 2010, even though an agreed formula for granting such increases is largely based on this year’s inflation figures which are likely to prove negative.

RTÉ’s request for a hike in the licence fees comes as TDs and senators yesterday called for a re-examination of six-figure salaries paid to RTÉ broadcasters given the station is facing a €68 million revenue deficit in 2009.

The chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, MJ Nolan, expressed concern that RTÉ’s top earners were earning “disproportionate and unjustifiable” salaries at a time when major cutbacks were needed.

His comments came after RTÉ director general, Cathal Goan admitted the national broadcaster is suffering an unprecedented decline in advertising income. However, Mr Goan also rubbished recent media reports which suggested RTÉ could be forced to shut down later this year due to bankruptcy.

He told the committee that the figure of €68m was a projected revenue shortfall and not a deficit. “There is absolutely no truth in the story which has featured in recent press coverage of RTÉ that we face bankruptcy and/or a deficit of €100m,” remarked Mr Goan.

He said RTÉ had readily admitted it was “in a difficult place. But it is not the crisis portrayed in other media.”

RTÉ’s director general pointed out that management had already earmarked savings of €27m from cost-cutting measures introduced last year, while a further €41m in potential savings had been identified in both pay and non-pay costs.

“This does mean cutbacks in programming but it is our intention to carry out this painful exercise in a way that least damages the quality, variety and competitive strength of our various programme schedules,” said Mr Goan.

Plans to reduce the RTÉ payroll by €10m are currently being voted on by members of the RTÉ group of trade unions who are being asked to take pay cuts of between 2% and 12½%.

TDs and senators were informed that RTÉ’s annual report for 2008, which is due to be published shortly, will show the station managed to break even last year through the cancellation of performance-related bonuses and other cost-saving initiatives, despite a revenue shortfall of €26m.

The Oireachtas Committee heard that 2,350 staff are employed in RTÉ, earning an average salary of €62,406 per annum. A total of 148 employees earn in excess of €100,000 per annum.

However, the figures exclude the station’s top earners and best-known presenters like Pat Kenny, Gerry Ryan and Marian Finucane who are employed on a contract basis.

Mr Goan revealed that RTÉ currently pays out €12m per annum to 249 people employed on such contracts.

Labour TD Liz McManus said the salary of the station’s top earners was an “affront” to other RTÉ staff as well as the public, while Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan noted such presenters were continuously criticising the pay of politicians even though they were receiving “obscene” salaries themselves.

Replying to questions from members of the committee, Mr Goan said he would not discuss the details of the fees paid to any presenter as they were confidential.

However, he pointed out that RTÉ had agreed since 2001 to publish details of its top 10 earners every year.

Mr Goan said the 2007 figures would be published in the near future.


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