Minister Catherine Martin Sasko Lazarov/
cost cutting

Media Minister: 'It will be RTÉ’s call on compulsory redundancies, not the governments'

Media Minister Catherine Martin came before the Media Committee today to answer questions on RTÉ and longer-term funding of public broadcasting.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL have no role in deciding whether compulsory redundancies or pay-cuts are implemented in RTÉ, Catherine Martin said today. 

Instead it will be RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst who will make this call as part of his cost-cutting decision-making at the broadcaster. 

“It’s not a matter for me to engage in that sort of micromanaging of salaries,” Media Minister Catherine Martin said.

However, she did say that she does not want to see redundancies happen as the staff are the “innocent victims” in the RTÉ debacle. 

Martin appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Media this afternoon to answer questions on the oversight of RTÉ and the long-term funding plans for public service media. 

We learned this morning that an expansion of the terms of reference of the work of the forensic accountants investigating matters in RTÉ has been requested by the Expert Advisory Committee on Governance and Culture.

This is so that the origins of the Barter Account – the use of which made headlines during the summer – can be examined. 

The Minister did not reveal much more in relation to the next steps for RTÉ during today’s committee hearing, however she reiterated that long-term funding for the broadcaster will not be confirmed until the strategic plan is unveiled by RTÉ. 

Media Committee member and Fianna Fáil Senator Shane Cassells made the point today that Bakhurst had promised that the framework for this strategic plan would be provided to the minister ahead of the Budget. 

Martin responded: “Unfortunately that won’t be the case now… As a direct consequence of that I will not be considering the full amount until I see the strategic vision.”

In the interim, short-term funding will be made available to the broadcaster as part of next week’s Budget as per the recommendation of the Future of Media Commission. 

Martin would not say how much money she was seeking for RTÉ (on top of the €16m recommended by the Future of Media Commission) ahead of next week’s Budget, other than to say she would not let RTÉ fail as the public service broadcaster.

“I will hold off on anything about that until I see the strategic mission, that is the condition,” the Minister said. 

Licence fee

It is estimated that RTÉ will lose €21m in TV licence fee revenue by the end of the year as a result of the public distrust in the broadcaster that has arisen after the secret payments to Ryan Tubridy were revealed in June.

Martin would not tell committee members today what her preference is for a replacement of the licence fee model, saying that she would not “preempt the work of government”.

Last year, the government chose not to implement the recommendation from the Future of Media Commission to replace the TV licence with direct exchequer funding because it felt retaining the licence fee model would “minimise the risk of potential or perceive political interference in media independence”.

Martin said today however that “all options are on the table” as the landscape has changed significantly since then.

RTÉ Toyshow musical 

Committee members also raised the cost of RTÉ’s Toyshow the Musical with the Minister today, with committee chairperson and Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth saying she was “astonished” at the €2m cost of the musical which ultimately flopped with the public.

Likewise, Cassells was particularly vexed by the cost of the musical in light of RTÉ’s subsequent request for funding from the government. He told the Minister: “You can call it ‘supporting the arts’ or a ‘colossal commercial cock up’”.

In response, the Minister said she understands the frustration in relation to the failure of the musical but said RTÉ has full editorial independence in relation to the projects it chooses to pursue.

The Minister will meet with RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst and RTÉ Chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh later this week. 

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