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RTÉ director general says announcement of job cuts was held off over death of Gay Byrne

It was announced last night that RTÉ is to cut 200 jobs as part of a major restructuring plan.

RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes
RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes
Image: RollingNews.ie

RTÉ DIRECTOR GENERAL Dee Forbes has said plans to announce widespread cuts at the company were put on hold due to the death of broadcasting legend Gay Byrne. 

Late last night, a lengthy statement detailing the extent of the cuts was sent to newsrooms across the country, after the news was leaked to the Irish Times. 

The national broadcaster revealed details of the plan this evening which will also see 200 jobs cut next year. The plans will also see the pay of its top presenters cut by 15%.

Lyric FM is to be retained but its production moved from Limerick to Cork and Dublin.

Forbes addressed the situation on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland this morning, speaking to presenter Brian Dobson. 

Dobson asked why a statement regarding the cuts, which was ready to be published, was held back.

Forbes said the plan was ready to go, however it was put on hold due to the death of Gay Byrne. 

The full statement was released by RTÉ last night after the Irish Times broke the story. 

“Our priority, of course, in any situation is to inform our staff first,” Forbes explained. 

“We were ready to go with this plan, but unfortunately this week we had very sad news when … Gay Byrne passed away,” she said. 

So, we decided not to go public this week, and we were pushing to next week. 

“Unfortunately, the information leaked, and last night the Irish times went with the story,” she said. 

Forbes said her priority was to “get to staff” as quickly as possible and not to have a gap in information. 

Responding for Forbes, Dobson pointed out that it was a document that was “seen, clearly, by dozens of eyes over the last number of weeks”. 

“You work in the media business. There was a high probability, was there not, that it would be leaked at some point?” Dobson said. 

Forbes responded by saying “it’s the business we’re in, Brian”.

“As I said, it’s regrettable. We had been working with an a very, very tight parametre, of course, the executive and the RTÉ board were fully across this. As I said, it’s regrettable. We need to know move on, we need to talk to staff,” Forbes said.

There will be a full staff briefing this morning, she confirmed. 

Speaking of the death of Byrne this week, Dobson said: “It does occur to me that Gay Byrne  would have been the last person perhaps who’d want staff left in the dark. He used to say sometimes, jokingly, that he found our more about what was going on in RTÉ from members of the public than he did for his own managers.” 

Job cuts

As noted above, the plans will see 200 jobs cut next year. 

Lyric FM is to be retained but its production moved from Limerick to Cork and Dublin. 

The broadcaster confirmed in a statement last night that it will close its Digital Audio Broadcast network as well as RTÉ’s digital radio stations, including RTÉ Gold and stations like 2XM and RTÉ Pulse.

As part of cost-cutting efforts, RTÉ has pledged to “reduce the fees paid to our top contracted on-air presenters by 15%”, this is in addition to cuts of “over 30% agreed in previous years”.

RTÉ executives are to take a 10% reduction in pay and the board of RTÉ will “waive its fees”.

Dobson pressed Forbes on where the job cuts will come from, to which she confirmed that all job losses will be voluntary.

“A big portion of that number will happen as a result of the transfer of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra to the Concert Hall,” Forbes said, adding that this will account for a little more than 60 losses. 

‘My thoughts are with the workers’

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Business Minister Heather Humphreys said her “thoughts are with the workers”. 

“The plan that outlined this morning is something that the government was expecting. Obviously Minister Burton, when he receive this plan, will look at it,” Humphreys said. 

In a statement last night, RTÉ said that licence fee evasion rates in Ireland are among the highest in Europe and is “costing jobs”.

The station says that between people who evade their TV licence fee and those who just watch RTÉ programming on the RTÉ player, “over €50 million is lost to public broadcasting every year”.

Addressing this, Humphreys said “the government has been looking at the reform of the licence fee”. 

“The government has been taking a number of measures to improve collection of the licence fee,” she said. 

Humphries was unable to say what exact measures the government had put in place to improve collection of license fee and to secure the sustainable funding of RTÉ.

“Minister Bruton is working closely with RTÉ and wants to see what’s exactly in this plan,” she said.

“I believe that the national broadcaster is a public service and does deserve to be funded. But it also needs to look at its business model … some workers at RTÉ are paid more than the Taoiseach, the UK Prime Minister and the President of America.” 

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it is “gravely concerned” over the news.

“I believe that many of the proposals are ill conceived, would not serve the best interest of public service broadcasting and would be damaging to staff and RTÉ,” NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said. 

“In a week in which RTÉ and political leaders have celebrated the very best of public service broadcasting, the Minister for Communications and the government must provide leadership by providing funding for RTÉ, in line with the recommendations of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland,” Dooley said. said, adding that “if RTÉ is to survive government must also play its part”.

With reporting by Dominic McGrath

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