Saturday August 15, 2020

Colette Sexton: 'RTÉ management has changed - but Montrose's dire financial problems remain'

Are plans to outsource kids programming a shot across the bows by new DG Dee Forbes?

29th November, 2016
Dee Forbes, RTÉs new director general, faces a big task to turn the stations ailing finances around

When Dee Forbes, the director general of RTÉ, took up the role in July, the industry all knowingly nodded at one other: “She’ll have to make cuts - something will have to give”.

A fair assessment. RTE is in dire financial straits and, despite a couple of years of breaking even, it has been for some time. On the back of the general election, the 1916 commemorations, and a lot of sport, it is facing a budget deficit of €20 million this year. The money has to come from somewhere, and most people in the media said RTÉ has too many strings to its bow. Something had to go.

Based on fact, based on hunches, based on nothing, gossip flew through Montrose. RTÉ could remove entire limbs, the rumour factory said. The concert orchestra, or Fair City, or even RTÉ2 could be on the chopping board, were the whispers on Dublin 4 corridors.

But then, after all the talk, RTÉ did what everyone said it should do. It made a cut - and all hell broke loose.

The state broadcaster announced last week that it would commission all young people’s programmes from the independent sector. In a statement, it said: “RTÉ is not reducing its commitment to young people’s programmes, nor is it reducing spend.”

The decision has been deferred until January after the RTÉ Trade Union Group pointed out that there was a breach of its “guiding principles agreement”, which commits to prior consultation on significant issues.

The more cynical among us (i.e. me) might see the kids programming as a warning shot from RTÉ management. RTÉ needs more money if it is going to continue providing all of its services. There is no escaping that.

I began covering media and marketing two years ago this month and still I remember ministers and governments long before then talking about how vital it was to ensure RTÉ has the appropriate funding. The people - both in RTÉ management and in government - have changed, but the funding problem still has not been dealt with.

Compared to a huge and irreversible decision like selling 2fm, outsourcing kids programming, which could be reversed in the future, is not the most extreme but still gets a huge attention.

Maybe this is Forbes’ way of telling the government that the time for talking is over - if RTÉ's finances are not shored up, services will be cut. She is said to have a good relationship with the current Minister of Communications, Denis Naughten, who is apparently eager to leave his mark. For his part, Naughten, recently instructed the Department of Communications to examine TV licence evasion, which is thought to cost RTE up to €40 million a year, as “a matter of priority”.

So maybe, finally, the RTE funding issue will be addressed. If not, Dustin the Turkey won’t be the only one in a foul mood.

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