RTÉ's financial position monitored 'closely' - Govt

Updated / Thursday, 25 Nov 2021 12:26

Deputy Brian Stanley asked if the State is 'facing a crisis with RTÉ'

A senior Government official has said that, during the pandemic, RTÉ demonstrated the importance of public service broadcasting in maintaining a healthy democracy.

The Secretary General at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media was addressing the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

Katherine Licken said: "RTÉ has exercised great judgement and great management. It has cost-cutting measures in place. It's working to contain its costs".

Ms Licken was responding to concerns expressed by committee chair, Brian Stanley of Sinn Féin, who said the financial future of the national broadcaster is "far from secure".

"During the course of the pandemic RTÉ demonstrated how important public service broadcasting really is. They provided critical information, the evidence is there that people rely on RTÉ, that they trust RTÉ as a trusted source of information", Ms Licken said.

"That is really, really important for a well-functioning democracy; a transparent and good public service media and good media overall," she added.

Deputy Stanley asked whether the State is "facing into a crisis with RTÉ" and whether a "State bail out" would be needed.

"To me it looks far from healthy," he said, noting the broadcaster had carried deficits "for six consecutive years".

In 2019 it had €95m borrowings, Mr Stanley added.

"Yes, we do monitor very closely RTÉ's financial position," Ms Licken said, adding that it "was in surplus in 2020".

"Some of the predicted shortfalls didn't actually emerge as anticipated, which was good news," she told the committee.

Ms Licken said the department is working very closely with RTÉ, New Era and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland "to monitor the situation closely".

"Of course we are concerned, and we will always be concerned for funding for public service broadcasting," she said.

This is why The Future of Media Commission was established, and it is looking at the future public service broadcasting, Ms Licken added.

"It is right to say there are concerns," she said, and "the Government is acting on those concerns".

Deputy Stanley read from an internal departmental memo from earlier in the year.

He said that the document said the finances at RTÉ are "not sustainable" and are "undermining its capacity" to perform its role.

Deputy Stanley emphasised that he is a supporter of public service broadcasting, and agreed with Ms Licken's comments on its importance.

RTÉ conducting review of Irish-speaking workers' remuneration

The Secretary General said that RTÉ is "conducting a comparative review of the remuneration of Irish-speaking workers".

Ms Licken said the broadcaster has tendered for "a full evaluation of all staff roles and grades in RTÉ".

She added that "Irish language roles will be part of this review", which will "include the staff of Raidió na Gaeltachta".

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said that she has engaged with RTÉ over "pay disparity" where "workers are essentially being paid less if they work through the medium of Irish".

This has been going on for 20 years, Deputy Munster said, adding the broadcaster had told her that it had been "unaware of it".

Ms Munster said that RTÉ "renaged" on a promise to follow up on the matter.

"There is extensive oversight of RTÉ," Ms Licken said, but when an issue arises "it's important they address the issue promptly".

"I welcome the fact that they are doing a review now," she said.

"It is a complex area. It is a large organisation with a wide variety of different grades structure," she added.

Ms Licken also noted that RTÉ has only come under the remit of the department since 2020.