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RTÉ pay: 'Those who say that we need to pay a lot to attract talent are wrong'

We know that many journalists working in the private media make peanuts, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

RTÉ RECENTLY REVEALED its top ten earners. There are only three women on the list, which reflects the situation over at the BBC in the UK, where its stars make even more money; for example, Chris Evans tops the list at over £2 million a year.

The revelations have led to outrage in the media and accusations of discrimination against women. Here are five points I’d like to make.

1. Yes, those amounts are ridiculous

And they were even more so only a few years back, before cuts at RTÉ. For example, in 2011, Tubridy was paid €723,000. There is nothing defensible here.

Those who say that we need to pay a lot to attract talent are wrong. There’s little talent involved in chit-chatting with celebrities, gossiping about sports, or asking soft questions to politicians. If anything, we’re talking about a lack of professional talent in such cases.

2. Is there a bias against women at RTÉ?

Judging from the list, there is because there are only three women on it and the highest paid comes at number four. The situation is similar at the BBC and reflects broader trends in employment.

There is an average gender pay gap of 16.3% in the European Union and 13.9% in Ireland. This means that among all men and women who are employees, women make on average 13.9% less per hour than men. The reasons range from discrimination to the fact that female-dominated sectors earn less than male-dominated ones.

3. Everything isn’t better in private media

But not so quick. Let’s not call for the abolition of RTÉ or think that everything is better in private media.

Every right-winger loves to criticise public broadcasters as alleged examples that there is too much fat in the public sector and that the private sector is more efficient.

But that’s very misleading – salaries are very high in finance and banking, for example. In Ireland in 2015, 26 bankers received a total of €50 million in salaries and bonuses, and we know that Irish bankers are not always competent because they crashed the economy.

Also, don’t forget that (to my knowledge) we don’t have lists of how much star broadcasters make in the private media, so we can’t really compare. At least in the public media we can expose and debate the salaries. A public broadcaster is very important and it should be properly funded. The problem is that resources within RTÉ are not well allocated.

4. Inequality within the public sector

Indeed, the main problem to focus on is inequality within the public sector, whether it is education, health or media: there are a few highly paid managers or celebrities but the bulk of employees don’t make outrageous salaries.

For example, 61% of RTÉ employees make less than €60,000 a year (1207 employees out of a total of 1978); 18% (360 employees) make less than €40,000. Nothing scandalous here.

We also know that many journalists working in the private media make peanuts and are in precarious positions, while star broadcasters and owners are very wealthy.

5. Regurgitating the views of Official Ireland

One reason why the above list of stars make so much money is that they fulfill a great service to the Irish establishment by regurgitating the views of Official Ireland, or keeping us busy with pleasantries while turning a blind eye with the real problems that this country is facing.

For example, between 2000 and 2007, 717 Prime Time shows were aired, of which only ten, or approximately 1%, contained a segment concerned with the housing bubble (and most were not even critical of it).

In other words, not a word about the country’s most significant economic event that plunged us into recession and austerity. But there was a lot of chit chat about rather irrelevant political intrigues.

Same thing for Tubridy’s Late Late Show. When he’s not making small talk with celebrities, he’s working hard to criticise those who have had enough with austerity and try to organise protests about it.

Julien Mercille is an associate professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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