RTÉ must ‘transform itself’ in response to falling revenue, Minister says

Richard Bruton says salaries paid to top presenters ‘should be examined’

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has said it was up to RTÉ to come up with a new business strategy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has said it was up to RTÉ to come up with a new business strategy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

There is no doubt that RTÉ “has to transform itself” to try to respond to falling advertising revenue and digital competition, Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has said.

Mr Bruton said the broadcaster had to find a way to “build digital audiences” and in particular make its content “more accessible to young people” as well as looking at the salaries of its top presenters.

But Mr Bruton stopped short of saying he would instruct RTÉ to sell more land at its Montrose, Dublin campus or sell-off its Cork studios. He said it was up to RTÉ to come up with a new business strategy, which would have to be approved by Government.

Asked about the ongoing financial crisis at RTÉ, he told Radio 1’s This Week programme that the organisation “has to work out its own strategy” and that the board needed to think of ways to build audience numbers.

Mr Bruton said RTÉ was not alone in the media landscape facing significant challenges from new online media and it was not “as simple” as the Government writing a cheque to compensate for falling revenue.

The Minister said the TV licence system which part-funds RTÉ was beset by evasion and the licence fee would be put out to a private collector to improve compliance levels. In the longer term, he said the system would be reformed to take into account people listening and viewing on computers, phones and other digital devices.

He said a key question for the station was “how do they deliver public service broadcasting in this new environment”.

Salary controversy

Asked about controversy over salaries paid to top presenters, many of which were claimed to be higher than the salary of the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton said the issue was constantly raised at Oireachtas committees. He said the salaries paid to top presenters was something the broadcaster should consider.

News reports this weekend claim RTÉ director general Dee Forbes sent an email to staff warning that RTÉ’s financial situation was not like anything it have seen before.

The Irish Mail on Sunday said the station was preparing to sell its Cork studio and more land at Montrose. The paper also said there were questions about the future of RTÉ’s Lyric FM, which is based in Limerick.

In a statement on Sunday, RTÉ said it was “ currently finalising a review of everything we currently do and what we can continue to do in the future and we expect to be in a position to share details in the coming weeks.”

“RTÉ remains committed to meeting the ever-changing needs of Irish audiences and to securing the future of public service media in Irish life,” it said. “We are mindful of RTÉ’s central role in reflecting who we are as a people and a nation and where we are going, a role that is more important now than ever.

“However, with commercial revenues and public funding both significantly below what is needed to operate the organisation in its current form, it is no longer possible to continue as we are.”