herald

Sunday 25 August 2019

RTE spent €7.2m covering Pope's visit, election and the World Cup

The Pope in the Phoenix Park
The Pope in the Phoenix Park

RTE spent €7.2m covering the Papal visit, the presidential election and the World Cup last year.

The broadcaster recorded a loss of €13m for the year, which it said was party due to the cost of covering these "special events".

Launching RTE's annual report yesterday, director general Dee Forbes complained that "every day we have to curtail our own ambitions" due to constrained resources.

She used the occasion to renew calls for reforms of the TV licence system and that more taxpayers' money be given to the broadcaster.

The annual report showed a modest underlying improvement in cash flow following the exodus of 160 staff via voluntary retirement and redundancy.

This process cost €29.6m in 2017 and left RTE with an end-of-2018 staff count of 1,822, including 250 part-time employees, down 8pc from 2016.

RTE said its operating costs in 2018 declined by €1.9m to €332.6m, while revenue rose by €1.5m to €339m, to give a narrow underlying profit of €6.5m before exceptional items.

Challenging

However, this excluded RTE's €7.2m bill for covering the World Cup in Russia, the visit of Pope Francis in August and the October presidential election.

RTE said financial conditions this year remain "very challenging, with inadequate levels of operational funding from both licence fee and commercial revenue to fund its obligations".

Ms Forbes appealed for reforms of the licence fee, citing the high cost of collecting the annual charge from households and the high rate of evasion.

"We want to do more," Ms Forbes said.

"We are full of programme ideas, but every day we have to curtail our own ambitions and the creative ambitions of the broader independent production sector due to our constrained resources.

"It will not be possible for RTE to maintain and enhance what we do and fulfil our remit without action from Government and a solution to the funding of public service media."

She said the case for reforming the TV licence system had been made in numerous reviews, but "to date, there has been no substantial response from Government".

The report did not contain details of salaries. In December RTE reported that its top-paid employee in 2016 was Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy on €495,000. Ray D'Arcy was second on €450,000 and Joe Duffy third on €389,988.

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