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RTÉ wrestles with future while reminiscing about the golden age of the past

Inside Politics: Dee Forbes blunt about need for Government funding

Good morning.

Days after the death of Gay Byrne, the dominant and outstanding figure in its history, RTÉ outlined overnight the measures it will have to implement to ensure its survival.

An Irish Times report on a three-year strategy to save €60 million, including 200 job cuts and a reduction of 15 per cent in pay for the highest-earning broadcasters, prompted RTÉ to release the full reform plan.

The details make our lead story this morning, and staff in the national broadcaster will be briefed on campus in Montrose later today. Dee Forbes, the director general, had intended to delay the briefing to next week due to Byrne's death.


It will be a painful time for those in RTÉ, who now have to wrestle with their future while reminiscing about the golden age that Byrne personified. A striking feature of the statements released last night from Forbes, Moya Doherty, the chair of the RTÉ board, and the NUJ was the strong language directed at the Government.

Senior figures in RTÉ have long been privately frustrated with the pace at which the Government is moving to reform the licence fee system. Earlier this year, Minister for Communications Richard Bruton put the collection of the licence fee out to tender.

The successful bidder will be awarded a five-year contract, after which the fee will be changed to a a “device-independent broadcasting charge” designed to capture households consuming publicly-funded content on devices other than traditional television sets. That timeframe, however, is far too slow for RTÉ.

Doherty said the “licence fee system is broken” and has “not been fit for purpose for some time”.

“In order to support this process of transformation that we are embarking on and to achieve financial stability, the TV Licence must be reformed,” she added. “This is the responsibility of Government alone. This is one of the most defining moments in the RTÉ’s 93-year history.”

Forbes was even more blunt.

"Government needs to act to ensure there is a future for public service media in Ireland, " she said. "I am clear about what role RTÉ should play in Irish life, but I am also clear that we cannot do it unless Government fixes the TV Licence system. We shouldn't be under any illusions; we are in a fight – a fight to sustain a viable public media in Ireland."

“We remain in discussions with Government. We are doing all we can to return RTÉ to a stable financial position, but we will not be able to reinvent public media for future generations, nor fulfil our remit, without immediate reform of the TV Licence system.”

The NUJ condemned the Government's "ongoing failure to adequately reform RTÉ".

The cuts plan also says RTÉ's Limerick studio will be closed, leading to immediate social media protests from local TDs such as Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan. Yet Government figures will not be let away that easily by the Opposition.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader, has consistently raised the issue of media funding and public service broadcasting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Just this week, as the Dáil paid tribute to Byrne, Ryan said his death came at a time when it "is important to reflect at this time on whether we are valuing our public service broadcasting".

“We must bring back that sense of the importance of public service broadcasting, which is an important aspect of our democracy.”

Expect to hear similar sentiments in the days ahead.

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