NUJ stages demonstration outside RTE studios

The Government must immediately confirm a new funding model for public service broadcasting, a union representing RTE staff has said.

A long-running controversy at the national broadcaster widened last week when the chairwoman of the board resigned amid a dispute with the media minister.

Appearing on live television last Thursday, Minister Catherine Martin said she had been misinformed on two occasions by Siun Ni Raghallaigh about the board’s involvement in approving exit packages for former RTE executives.

RTE pay revelations
Media Minister Catherine Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Ni Raghallaigh resigned from her position hours later, prompting opposition parties to question Ms Martin’s handling of the matter at a crucial time for the embattled broadcaster.

RTE is now without a chair of its board as the Government delays making a decision on its future funding pending two expert reports on its governance and culture due next month.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which staged a lunchtime demonstration at the organisation’s Donnybrook campus in Dublin on Wednesday, said it remained “gravely concerned” at continued uncertainty surrounding the cash-strapped broadcaster.

RTE pay revelations
Former chairwoman of the RTE board Siun Ni Raghallaigh and RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst (Niall Carson/PA)

In a statement, the union said the resignation of the chair and the circumstances surrounding her departure have added to “the sense of chaos which has engulfed the organisation”.

Emma O Kelly, chairwoman of the NUJ Dublin broadcasting branch and RTE News education correspondent, said: “Our members remain concerned at the financial crisis caused by the delay in reforming the financing of public service broadcasting.

“Legitimate concern over corporate governance failures and understandable anger at the lack of engagement by former senior executives should not be used to further delay decisions on the funding of public service broadcasting.

“Our call on the government is to act immediately to confirm a new model of funding for public service broadcasting, one which provides certainty to RTE staff, the independent production sector, and the public.”

RTE staff protest
RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst speaks to staff (Cillian Sherlock/PA)

RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst also addressed the gathered staff: “Can I just thank you all for coming here. I really appreciate the message you’re trying to convey. I would say to you all, I totally appreciate this has been a horrendous period for all staff. I want to thank you all for the incredible efforts you’ve made to keep the organisation afloat.

“The one thing I would say to all is, I’m absolutely determined – you know, it’s been a rough few weeks for lots of people in the organisation – I’m absolutely determined to make this a better organisation for you all to work in, a better organisation to deliver to audiences and to rebuild trust and pride in working here.

“That’s my job and I’m going to get on with it. Thank you all very much, and I really appreciate you all coming out.”

RTE pay revelations
Emma O Kelly, chairwoman of NUJ Dublin broadcasting branch (Liam McBurney/PA)

The NUJ has called for a sharp focus on the funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland following Tuesday night’s meeting of the Oireachtas media committee, which was dominated by discussion on Ms Martin’s Prime Time interview that preceded the resignation Ms Ni Raghallaigh.

Seamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary said: “The ongoing political controversies, the carousel of allegations and counter-allegations and the drip feed of information have left an already demoralised staff reeling. What RTE workers now need is a sharp focus on the future.

“We have consistently demanded transparency in relation to all aspects of executive remuneration.

“Legally binding confidential agreements do not sit easily alongside the principle of transparency and have undermined public trust.

“We acknowledge the complexities involved in addressing legacy issues inherited by the current director-general, but the anger of staff is understandable.”

Industrial strike
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley (Liam McBurney/PA)

Also speaking on Wednesday, Finance Minister Michael McGrath said while the Government has committed to putting a sustainable funding model for public service broadcasting in place, no decision has yet been made.

He said it was his own view that it should continue to be funded through hybrid funding through the Exchequer and some form of charge, adding: “Not necessarily the licence fee, but that or another charge.”

The minister said that others believed funding entirely through the Exchequer would be a better solution.

However, he warned that finding about 150 million euro in the budgetary process caused by scrapping the licence fee would be “incredibly difficult”.

Mr McGrath added: “The second point is, I genuinely do not believe it is a good idea that it would be entirely at the mercy of the Government of the day when it comes to forward funding.”

He added: “I don’t believe that is a vulnerability that we should expose pulic service broadcasting to.”

End 2023 Exchequer Statement
Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said no decision has yet been made on a funding model (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking in Co Cavan, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee expressed confidence in Ms Martin.

She said: “I think she outlined very clearly last night in three hours of questioning and will again give statements today (on) the facts as they emerged last week, her reason for doing the interview.

“She had given a prior commitment, and the reason why she felt she couldn’t express full confidence.

“I think that people accept that. The minister has also been very clear that her relationship is with the chair of the board, but I have no doubt that she will engage with Kevin Bakhurst and will obviously have further engagement with him on any other matters.”

She added: “I have confidence in Kevin Bakhurst. I have no reason not to.”