Ex-RTÉ correspondent claims station has little interest in regional news

Damien Tiernan: ‘If you look at the figures I was effectively working one day a week’

Damien Tiernan said the number of news stories from the south-east used by RTÉ has fallen sharply in recent years.

Damien Tiernan said the number of news stories from the south-east used by RTÉ has fallen sharply in recent years.

 

Damien Tiernan, who stepped down as RTÉ’s south-east correspondent last month, believes he was effectively working one day a week due to what he claimed was the station’s lack of interest in regional news stories.

Mr Tiernan left the station in frustration at what he saw as the downgrading of regional coverage by the broadcaster over the years.

“If you look at the figures I was effectively working one day a week. I’d sit in the office five days a week but it would be one day a week in terms of broadcasting,” he told The Irish Times.

The broadcaster spent 23 years as the station’s Waterford based correspondent and was earning €90,000 a year when he left. From Monday he will host the news and current affairs show Déise Today on local Waterford station WLR FM.*

Mr Tiernan said he stood over figures he provided to the Sunday Business Post newspaper showing a sharp decrease in coverage of news from the south-east.

His studio in Waterford was producing 220 news packages a year in the early 2000s but this fell to between 50 and 60 a year in the last seven years, he said.

Figures not recognised

A RTÉ spokeswoman responded that the station did not recognise Mr Tiernan’s figures, adding the Waterford studio provided “comprehensive news coverage from the south-east”.

RTÉ’s head of news Jon Williams said on Twitter the station has just hired two new regional correspondents in Dundalk and Belfast. “Odd definition of ‘slashing’,” he wrote.

The new appointment in Belfast, Vincent Kearney, replaces Brendan Wright who retired as northern reporter last year. The Dundalk based position covering the north east had been vacant since 2017 when Richard Dowling became head of the station’s political unit.

Sinead Hussey was appointed to this post earlier this month.

Mr Tiernan said he was disgusted but not surprised by Mr William’s reaction.

He said RTÉ management should be called before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications to answer questions about its regional coverage.

“If I was a taxpayer, and anyone paying the license fee is effectively a taxpayer, in the south-east or in other regions, I would be shouting ‘why isn’t there more from my region on RTÉ News’?”

‘Tragedy Tiernan’

The broadcaster said his frustrations at the lack of regional coverage are “certainly” shared by other RTÉ correspondents.

“I can’t speak for them all,” he added. I don’t want the bosses thinking they are using me as a mouthpiece. That’s not the case.”

“There is frustration at many different levels in RTÉ, as there would be in any big organisation. But when it comes to something like this it’s very difficult to see the way forward.”

He said regional correspondents are used for “the big stories” and “the quirky stories, the three-legged duck, that type of this.”

What is missed are the stories in the middle, he said, “the good, regional rows, controversies and issues.

“The 6.1 News was originally extended to an hour to allow for those but that hasn’t been fulfilled.”

He said this means the most of regional news getting on air is bad news, adding he has picked up the nickname “tragedy Tiernan” as a result.

Mr Tiernan said he understands Brexit and the Trump presidency are important stories which eat up a lot of broadcast space but he says the decline in regional coverage began long before either of those events.

An RTÉ spokeswoman said the station was committed to regional coverage on all its programmes and platforms. “We wish our former colleague Damien Tiernan All the best in his new role on local radio.”

*Following its acquistion of Landmark Media Investments The Irish Times owns a 75 per cent stake in WLR FM