RTÉ chief takes gentle swipe at politicians’ scrutiny as broadcaster gets latest €20 million bailout

Bakhurst says he had no preference on future funding model so long as it protects RTÉ's independence, provides the required level of support and is multiannual

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst says licence fee income is fluctuating weekly 'sometimes depending on how many committee meetings we are doing'. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has confirmed the organisation received €20 million in interim Government funding on Monday.

He told members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media the money was required to address the shortfall in funding received from the licence fee.

He said that was down 14 per cent “across the last six months, according to the last figures. Week to week it goes up and down, sometimes depending on how many committee meetings we are doing”, he said in a lighthearted swipe at the level of Oireachtas scrutiny the organisation has been subjected to since last summer.

Mr Bakhurst said the funding received would be used for a range of purposes including its normal operating costs, the training and development of staff and investment in technology.

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Regarding the nature of RTÉ's future funding, Mr Bakhurst said he had no preference so long as the model provided the required level of funding, was multiannual and protected the organisation’s independence.

Asked by Fine Gael TD Micheál Carrigy if the broadcaster should be offering a substantial severance package to a member of its senior management team at the current time, Mr Bakhurst said changing the senior management team came at a cost.

When it was put to him that the sum involved was €400,000 and Jim Jennings, the current director of content who has been on sick leave from the organisation, was the manager, he said he was not in a position to confirm either. He said, however, the package was now the subject of negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission.

On Monday, RTÉ confirmed the recruitment of two new senior managers, one to work as director of audio, the other director of video, essentially the division of Mr Jennings’ role.

Mr Bakhurst confirmed production of both The Late Late Show and Fair City will be moved away from Montrose within the next five years but said no firm decision had been made on how exactly this will be done with a hybrid model involving some RTÉ personnel on an ongoing basis still a possibility.

“I would dispute the term outsourcing or privatising because we haven’t taken a decision on how we are going to do that,” he said. He suggested that both could be improved in the process with The Late Late Show likely to be based in a larger studio and Fair City potentially better funded through overseas sales.

Asked by Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh about a number of issues relating to internal procedures, Mr Bakhurst acknowledged staff at the broadcaster were still able to claim unvouched expenses “which is not necessarily the best thing for the organisation but that’s the current situation. We’re in discussions with the unions about it at the moment”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath suggested the fraud squad or Criminal Assets Bureau should be sent into RTÉ to investigate the “naked criminality” that had taken place with regard to the issue of bogus self-employment.

He also suggested the broadcaster should sell the entirety of its Montrose site and move out of Dublin.

Mr Bakhurst said progress was being made on resolving the many employment cases with individuals and the Department of Social Protection and while the remainder of the site had been valued with an figure of about €100 million estimated to be realisable but that substantial investment would be required to build at a new site.

“It’s much cheaper to stay on the site and consolidate, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve arrived at that solution.!

Fine Gael’s Michael Ring praised RTÉ, saying it provided excellent value for money but asked Mr Bakhurst “what’s wrong with RTÉ that you won’t put on a country music show?”

He called on the organisation to protect as many jobs as possible and Mr Bakhurst said that was his intention.

Mr Bakhurst said he had expected the Government to announce its new funding model for RTÉ before the summer recess “but in recent weeks it has become apparent they may need until the end of July to deliver it but the important thing is that they get it right”.

Asked by Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster how existing staff might fare in the process, Mr Bakhurst said “I can’t guarantee their jobs won’t be outsourced” but “I can give a guarantee there will be no compulsory redundancies.”

My Bakhurst said one of the things to have changed in recent months was the level of engagement with staff but, earlier on Tuesday, staff at a meeting of the organisation’s union members had criticised the level of detail he had provided to them when publishing RTÉ's new strategy document last Friday.

The meeting also heard calls for politicians who had expressed solidarity with staff last year to demonstrate that support now.

Secretary of the Trade Union Group, Sorcha Vaughan, said there had been a mix of anger and fear expressed by those who attended the meeting in The Late Late Show studio, not least over what she suggested was the uncertainty created by the broad nature of the proposals.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times