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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 12, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    How Much is Marian Finucane Worth?

    Hugh Linehan

    Call it cynical or call it professional, but RTE’s strategy of releasing details of fees and salaries paid to its top 10 presenters for 2007 and 2008 was a very well-achieved exercise in damage limitation. Having softened us all up in advance by having Cathal Goan warn how frightfully excessive the figures would look, then following the golden rule of getting all your bad news out in one go (i.e. two years’ worth rather than the usual one), not to mention doing it on a Friday evening when all eyes were on the Green-FF talks, the broadcaster then made sure we all knew that they knew that these figures were a product of the frothy good times, that those days were now definitively over and that further reductions would follow on the cuts already agreed by stars like Pat Kenny and (more reluctantly) Gerry Ryan.
    On Saturday, the Irish Daily Mail led with the fact that Marian Finucane was getting more than half a million a year “for four hours a week”. Now, Marian Finucane is one of the most brilliant and experienced broadcasters in the country. She has reinvented weekend Irish radio and boosted listening figures with her Saturday and Sunday morning shows. And it’s risible to suggest that those shows only take four hours’ work a week. However, the Mail has a point: it does seem an awful lot of money for what’s involved (declaration of interest: I occasionally fill in for Sam Smyth presenting the rival Sunday Supplement on Today FM
    What would be an appropriate fee? RTE talks vaguely about “market value”, but this is a market dominated by one major player – RTE – which also receives a huge state subvention in the form of the licence fee. “I have to repeat that they were set at a different time in a different competitive reality where some of this talent might be up for poaching by other organisations and in RTÉ’s view at the time, they delivered value for money,” says Cathal Goan. So a golden handcuff was required for some presenters to prevent them jumping ship to, say, Today FM or Newstalk. Given the latter’s current financial position, that looks a pretty unlikely proposition these days.
    Gerry Ryan and Pat Kenny have both suggested their remuneration is in part due to the large sponsorship and ad revenues their respective shows generate. Well, maybe, but if that’s the case we should see drops of 50 per cent or more in their next contracts, given the current state of the market. Who thinks that’s going to happen?
    One suspects RTE might be quietly happy with the way political and media attention focuses on star pay rather than on more fundamental questions about the way it does its business. The standard of interrogation at Oireachtas committees of broadcasting issues has been abysmal, and the broadcaster has managed for years to blur the distinction between its public-service and commercial activities – its annual report is a model of obfuscation.
    With occasional exceptions (Colum Kenny in the Sindo, Stephen Price in the Sunday Times), there’s not a lot of in-depth analysis in other media, either. Fact is, all of us have our own axes to grind on this subject (Declaration of Interest 2: here at irishtimes.com, obviously, we’re competing directly with rte.ie for traffic and ads). But, at a time when the Irish media  are facing into the most transformational era in living memory, it’s about time we started properly discussing RTE’s future role and responsibilities in a changed landscape.

    *Just heard Kevin Dawson (RTE’s PR head) declined to discuss the matter on The Last Word this evening because the story ‘had run its course’. That, presumably, is after the lengthy explorations on RTE’s current affairs programmes over the weekend (see Jim’s comment below). Arrogant? Cheeky? You decide.

    • Lynne says:

      When I think of these salaries in the context of the controversy over (other) highly paid individuals in the public service, these RTE stars seem like pretty poor value to me.

    • Kieran says:

      What I found interesting about all of this was that the same day everyone went wild about the high salaries of the RTE stars, the Irish Times published a front page article about how the taxpayer was likely to have to stump up 300 million to the “Anglo 10″. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2009/1009/1224256257376.html

      As high as the RTE salaries might be, they pale in comparison to an average of 30 million each that this gilded group of property tycoons will pocket.

      Where was the clamour about that?

    • Jim Carroll says:

      The funniest thing of all was how Marian handled the story on Saturday AM – she just quickly read the headline from the Mail and wheezed onto the next story as fast as humanly possible.

    • Mark says:

      These salaries are an absurdity – more self-serving semi-state smugness from RTE.The noises they make are out-of-touch with public sentiment (£300m plans to re-develop their prime Donnybrook site, the same site using more electricity than Kilkenny – all in the same release).They are still under-regulated and over paid,but are only symptomatic of a much wider problem with this state.After all,you can only drag so many hands out of the till at a time

    • Liam says:

      Good article , the RTE licence should be scrapped , it is a typical example of an upward transfer of wealth from working people in a situation where there isn’t a market because RTE is the market. There was a comment on an Irish forum recently where someone asked when a particular programme was going to be shown on RTE, one of the responses was “you still watch RTE, how quaint !”

    • Keith says:

      Kenny, Ryan et al should be just told you’re getting 200k a year, take it or leave it. What’s Pat Kenny going to do about it – head to New York and replace David Letterman ?!! Cathal Goan needs to get real and take action quickly.

    • Peter says:

      The figures are nothing short of obscene. These so called stars, most of whom are moderately talented, work for a relatively small island service and behave as if they are Leno or Letterman. I suspect most BBC executives have never heard of them, and there wouldn’t be legions of broadcasters knocking down the door to sign them up. The argument put forward by Kenny that he brings in the ads simply does not wash. That implies that he was bigger than his show, and could be used by any profession. The man making widgets does not get the value of all the widgets he makes.
      Interestingly the most popular show on RTE Radio is Morning Ireland, one of the programmes that isn’t presented by the overpaid egos. If only RTE put more emphasis on content rather than “personalities”.

    • Eoin says:

      Let them jump to their ‘rivals’ higher up the FM band. For crying out loud, these are public servants.

    • Given RTE are partially funded by the state is it justifiable that some of their presenters earn enough to employ 25 nurses/teachers for a whole year? And what does it do to the credibility and veracity of arguments being made by well paid journalists and commentators that we need reduce payments to politicians and to become more competitive in the workplace.
      It’s not just the politicians who have a credibility problem, methinks.

    • Joe says:

      Possibly to be of interest in a wider
      context: a well known US video with Peter
      Schiff and other financial experts forecasting, commenting and advising in
      06 / 07. Really impressive for instance
      Ben Stein (well known as pundit in the US): “the earnings of the financials (banks) are huge”, “they are the bargain of the century”, etc. (3rd part of video), before they all crashed, needed huge outside funding. Viewers in
      Ireland may not know those US pundits
      but it all is likely to sound very familiar.
      That message was parroted all over
      the place, the experts from whatever
      bank told all the same story on TV.
      The video is considered to be awesome. It provides a really good
      flashback, makes it easy to figure out
      a whole lot, including the media hype
      of these days preceding the malaise.

    • dealga says:

      It’s probably semantics but the licence fee should be ring fenced for programming and operating costs that don’t include the salaries of management or presenters.

      If the RTE presenters and RTE management then justify their salaries on the strength of the advertising revenue they bring in then fair enough. But the notion that my involuntary subscription can be pumped directly into the pockets of presenters I don’t watch or listen to (and actively avoid) is abhorrent.

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