Government accused of offering ‘tea and sympathy’ to media

Tánaiste: ‘We will play our part but RTÉ has to evolve and make decisions’

RTÉ Headquarters in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

RTÉ Headquarters in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Ireland’s entire media is on life support and the Government’s prescription is “tea and sympathy”, the Dáil has heard.

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary made the claim following the revelations of major cuts in RTÉ to save €60 million over three years.

Mr Calleary said “we need an independent media and public service broadcasting are very important part of that equation” but he said “that part of the equation is one that is taken most for granted, particularly by Government”.

He said a range of cuts including 200 redundancies notified to staff by media leaks late last night to The Irish Times.

He claimed the Government had its head in the sand and said there had been a “substantial lack of engagement from Government about RTÉ’s funding model and licensing system.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, replying for the Government said that Minister for Communications Richard Bruton received the final report on the RTÉ cuts proposals on Thursday morning.

Simon Coveney also informed the House that his brother works in RTÉ and was involved in the restructuring proposals and he wanted to put that on the record.

He said the Government had an idea of the cuts that were coming but he said the Minister only received the final report this morning.

Independent public broadcasting of domestic and international affairs was absolutely crucial for any functioning democracy, he said.

The Government would consider the restructuring in detail and would work with RTÉ. “We will play our part from a policy point of view but we also expect RTÉ to evolve and make the decisions they need to respond to consumer approaches” a changing media landscape.

He stressed that changes to the TV licensing system would take time and would go out to tender as Mr Calleary accused the Government of keeping its head in the sand.

Mr Calleary said that Ireland has the highest TV licence evasion rate in Europe at 14 per cent and “11 per cent who don’t pay the licence at all which is another €20 million”.

The Mayo TD said there were 200 redundancies, and an indefinite pay freeze for all staff but all the Government can do is focus on is cutting the pay of top presenters and “ignore the 200 redundancies”.

He said Virgin media announced 60 job cuts last week and all newspapers were involved in ongoing cuts with the loss earlier this year of The Times Ireland.

He also told Mr Coveney “you’re completely procrastinating as a Government on defamation laws”.

“Good media is dying on the vine while you whistle past the graveyard”.

Mr Coveney acknowledged that about 1,800 RTÉ employees learned of the cuts in The Irish Times and that they should have been informed in RTÉ first and he acknowledged the “huge frustration in RTÉ” because of that. “But that is how modern media works. When information is leaked it becomes public very quickly.”

He pointed out that €10 million in additional funding had been given to the broadcaster.

He said they were adapting from a “public policy perspective and a funding perspective”. RTÉ’s income had dropped by €100million to €150 million since the recession but he said licence fee income rose from €179 million to €189 million.