RTÉ chief angered by €5m licence cut going to welfare

Decision to cut subvention for free TV licence to €54m criticised by RTÉ board and by Rabbitte

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s budget announcement of a €5 million cut in the annual payment to RTÉ for pensioners’ free TV licences created “extraordinary” difficulties for the broadcaster, documents show

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s budget announcement of a €5 million cut in the annual payment to RTÉ for pensioners’ free TV licences created “extraordinary” difficulties for the broadcaster, documents show

Tue, Jan 21, 2014, 07:36

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s budget announcement of a €5 million cut in the annual payment to RTÉ for pensioners’ free TV licences created “extraordinary” difficulties for the broadcaster, documents show.

In a letter sent to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte shortly after the October budget, RTÉ chairman Tom Savage expressed deep concern that the subvention from the free TV licence scheme was being cut from €59 million to €54 million. He described it as “almost entirely arbitrary” and at odds with Government policy towards RTÉ.

“RTE’s public funding has been reduced to make a saving in the budget of the Department of Social Protection. In effect, RTÉ is being asked to bear the cost of national welfare policy.”

In the three-page letter, Mr Savage summarised the €135 million reduction in the broadcaster’s cost base, including reducing staff numbers by 500. He contended its resources were depleted and its ability to respond to new financial challenges was “severely limited”.


Public funding
“In such circumstances and with the continuing very difficult commercial environment, this new reduction in public funding will be extraordinarily difficult to manage,” he wrote.

And in a separate letter to Ms Burton at about the same time, Mr Rabbitte berated the cut and stated it came on top of a practice by the Department of Social Protection to pay only €145 to RTÉ for each of the 405,000 “free TV licences” for pensioners, rather than the TV licence fee of €160. That had already cost RTÉ €6 million, he claimed.

“Next year, the ‘hit’ taken by public service broadcasting and the independent programme makers will exceed €11 million – at a time when their viability remains in question,” wrote Mr Rabbitte.

The correspondence and records, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also disclose that Ms Burton’s department had proposed cutting the amount paid in the subvention to RTÉ by €10 million rather than €5 million until three weeks before the budget.