Former RTE reporter Charlie Bird has made an impassioned plea about the future of the national broadcaster, saying it is time people ‘got up off their backsides’ to highlight its precarious state.
He was commenting after the publication of a briefing document to Catherine Martin, the Minister for Media, which warned that ‘the financial sustainability of the organisation is now under immediate threat’.
The ministerial brief noted: ‘Commercial income continues to decline primarily due to the rise of digital advertising on the social media platforms, Brexit uncertainty and the impact of COVID on advertising.’
And in a post on social media, Mr Bird, RTE’s former chief news correspondent, wrote: ‘I think it is time that people got up off their backsides to highlight the precarious financial situation of the public service broadcaster.’ He added: ‘Now is the time to wake up!’
His post was liked by RTÉ’s security correspondent Barry Cummins.
The Irish Daily Mail recently reported that RTE has saved around €30million during the pandemic because of show cancellations, but the national broadcaster is still losing money.
The report by officials at the Department of Media said that as well as the advertising downturn, challenges around TV licensing fee collection were also having ‘a critical impact on RTE’s revenues’.
These included the high evasion rate, currently 12.83%; the exclusion of the estimated 10% of households who don’t have a TV, and the relatively high collection costs. The briefing note also warned that RTÉ’s assets are ‘fully stretched’ in terms of collateral against loans and ‘its capacity to borrow more is limited’.
It said that between 2008 and 2014, RTÉ reduced operating costs by around 30%, or €127million through tiered pay reductions, a pay freeze, content cuts and other savings.
Despite this, personnel-related costs increased by €20million (from €163million to €183milllion) over the last five years, due to the pay restoration, incremental pay rises, level changes and pension changes.
The total number of employees at the end of 2018 was 1,822, which was 165 lower than in 2016, due to a voluntary exit programme.
The briefing note said an additional problem facing RTÉ was the shift among younger people away from traditional media.
It warned that this could have a major impact on the coverage of Irish news and current affairs.
The note did draw the minister’s attention to changes being implemented to curb financial losses, including a 15% reduction in the fees of top presenters from January 2020 as well as the sale of part of the Donnybrook campus.
— to extra.ie