A PROTEST at RTÉ’s studios in the Midwest demonstrated the anger of rank and file staff at so-called “sweetheart deals” for top star, Ryan Tubridy.
The station has been mired in controversy since news broke that Mr Tubridy received €345,000 in additional payments between 2017 and 2022. As representatives of RTÉ’s top brass got set to appear before two Oireachtas committees this week, staff took to the picket line. They voiced concerns over precarious contracts, low pay and cuts that have deepened at RTÉ in recent years. With no licence fee increase for 17 years and growing competition, RTÉ has been bidding for greater State support and aiming to prove that it could make reign in spending. Against that backdrop, news of the payments to Mr Tubridy pushed staff anger to boiling point.
The mood among journalists was described by one RTÉ worker as a “mix of despondency and anger”. The staffer spoke to The Champion on condition of anonymity. “The vast majority of of staff, especially the journalists, are very committed to their jobs and to RTÉ as an organisation,” they said. “All staff feel very let down by what has happened.”
Meanwhile, a former member of RTÉ’s News and Current Affairs staff, Deputy Michael McNamara described the TV licence as “a concept that has outlived its usefulness”. “If you go down to Ennis District Court any week, you’ll see that people are still being prosecuted for not having a licence. In many cases, they don’t watch RTÉ, or they cannot afford the licence. The media has changed radically since the licence fee was introduced. There are may outlets providing news. While they face competition from RTÉ, they don’t benefit from the same supports. I have no problem with the idea of Public Service Broadcasting, especially in tackling disinformation. The time has come for RTÉ to make clear what its public service output is, I’m not sure you’d put ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in that category, for example.”
Deputy McNamara, who worked on RTÉ news and current affairs output, including Prime Time, in the early 2000s also said that the station’s calculations on pay “do not add up”. “We know now that RTÉ paid more money to Ryan Tubridy than was disclosed,” he said. “The fact is that the calculation as to what top people are paid doesn’t really hold water. They’re paid less than counterparts in the UK, for example. That’s because there’s competition there and rival stations would can offer more. That’s just not the case here. Some RTÉ staff are paid multiples of what the Taoiseach or the Chief Justice gets. When much of that money is coming from the State, it does call RTÉ’s funding model into question.”
The Scariff-based TD was also highly critical of RTÉ’s treatment of ordinary staff. “Offering precarious contracts is not unique to RTÉ,” he said. “Several educational institutions are behaving in the same way, but there is a very real problem with the way RTÉ has used precarious contracts and self-employment. Many ordinary staff would desperately love to be employed directly and to have the benefits that offers. Those who are benefitting from self-employment are the big stars who seem to hold the power.”
Meanwhile, the current staff member who spoke to The Champion said RTÉ had not shied away from coverage of the row. “Politicians and academics who have been commenting on this situation, as well as a lot of people using social media have been able to separate their views on those who are highly-paid within RTÉ and the vast majority who are literally just making a living,” they said. “I would hope that people recognise the value of the newsroom. It’s also been very hard for staff to cover a story about our own workplace, but that’s our job. RTÉ have led the coverage. RTÉ’s journalists have really gone after the story. They have asked the hard questions and that has proven the value of public service journalism. The newsroom has stood up and done its job and expressed the anger that everyone is feeling.”
They added that the only thing that would restore of trust to staff and the public is “complete transparency and complete honesty”. “People need to be told exactly what happened,” they said. “The issues need to be addressed and not swept under the carpet. As bad as things are, there is an opportunity here to correct things in terms of the pay and the contracts of the vast majority of staff, who are just about making a living. There are so many people on short-term contracts without any benefits. Something has to be done to make the place more attractive to work in. The level of secrecy about pay has really fuelled people’s anger.”
The staff member commended the NUJ for its leadership. “There has been huge leadership shown by people like Emma O’Kelly,” they said. “She is a high-profile person and has been extremely forthright and outspoken. People have found her leadership inspiring.”