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TV licence fee should be doubled says RTÉ head as job cuts loom at broadcaster

Dee Forbes announced the job cuts would come as the company merged different divisions together.

Image: Niall Carson PA Archive/PA Images

THE DIRECTOR GENERAL of RTÉ has said that the content that the broadcaster provides warrants a licence fee that is double the current cost.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, director general Dee Forbes outlined the reasoning behind the land sale at Montrose announced this morning and the planned job cuts at the national broadcaster.

Forbes highlighted the financial troubles faced by RTÉ since 2008, said the company was losing out on licence fees through high numbers not paying, and said that job losses would be incurred as the organisation restructures.

Raising cash

Forbes indicated that the problems at RTÉ stemmed from a loss of revenues that have hit the company hard in recent years. She said that the planned €75 million land sale and the 200-300 job cuts should be seen in the “context of where [they] are”.

Forbes also didn’t rule out further land sales in the future.

She said: “Since 2008, we’ve lost €100 million in revenue.”

The RTÉ head explained that money from the land sale at its Dublin HQ will be reinvested in technology to “enhance the experience of the audience”.

During those difficult years, technology took a backseat. An organisation like this lives and breathes on technology.

Making Fair City, and news bulletins, available in high-definition was one example cited where the organisation needed to modernise.

Last year was a tough year financially for the company, as they’d planned for a big 2016 according to Forbes.

She referenced big events such as the 1916 commemorations, the Olympics and the Euros football competition as occasions that required RTÉ to commit a lot of spending towards.

When O’Rourke put it to Forbes that these occasions were foreseen well in advance, she retorted that not everything could be planned ahead for.

Not all foreseen. The election wasn’t foreseen, Sean.

O’Rourke pointed out that the previous general election had been in 2011, so it would have been reasonable to expect the next one to occur in 2016.

Forbes said that it was possible to “plan for a certain amount” but then “things happen”, before highlighting the falling revenues at RTÉ.

Value for money

Forbes said that licence fee income has been reducing because some people refused to pay the licence fee.

Last year, Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that the problem of people evading payment was more of an issue here than elsewhere.

He said: “It is three times higher than those experienced in the UK and in Germany. It is estimated that it could be anywhere up to €40m per annum.”

Forbes highlighted that RTÉ’s two traditional revenue streams – the licence fee and advertising revenue – had both taken a hit in recent times.

The industry is going through huge change, and we have to be able to change with it.

Tackling the falling income from traditional forms of advertising, and imploring on the government to reform the collection of TV licence fees was a key priority for RTÉ going forward, said Forbes.

She said that conversations were ongoing with the government regarding the licence fee, and said that the organisation had asked the government to raise the price.

When O’Rourke put it to her that some had complained that the licence fee wasn’t value for money when repeats of shows like Room to Improve were shown during prime time hours, Forbes disagreed.

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She praised the programming created by RTÉ, and said that the quality of content was of primary importance to the company going forward.

It [the licence] is 40c a day. I think it’s incredible value. I think it should be double that.

She later said in a statement that any notion that the licence fee be doubled is “nonsense”.

Government negotiations are ongoing, she repeated, and said that the organisation hopes to secure reform of the licence fee system to secure future income for the company, adding that both the public and the government value the service.

Job losses

While no exact number has been confirmed, Forbes said that there would be in the region of 200-300 jobs losses at the broadcaster, or 10% of its staff.

She said that these losses would come as the organisation brings together separate divisions, including radio, television and digital, under one division which would shed duplicate roles shared among them.

She said that the division which focuses on news and current affairs would remain largely unchanged.

The details surrounding these job cuts will be finalised within the coming months. She said: “The detail behind all of this will start today. We will work collectively with the representative groups and the teams to figure out how this will manifest itself.

These changes have to happen. It’s a case of adapt or die.

In terms of radio, Forbes made a commitment to the protection of Radio 1 and 2fm.

Despite losing the rights to events such as the Six Nations, she said that the next few years would still be a busy one for its coverage of world and sporting events.

While Forbes said it was too early to say how these changes would affect the running of existing channels and programming, the director general was keen to emphasise that the quality of content throughout the organisation’s wide remit was of most importance to going forward.

We are evaluating everything. The important piece that advertisers and the audience want is content. Are we making the right content? Are we fulfilling our remit? It is in that context that we will decide what services we need for the future.

Read: Cash-strapped RTÉ has officially put a chunk of land at its HQ up for sale for €75 million

Read: ‘Thanks for watching’ – RTÉ signs off with nostalgic montage as it loses Six Nations rights

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Sean Murray

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