Stars paid more than Taoiseach have 'difficult' jobs - RTE boss
THE boss of cash-strapped RTE has been forced to defend the massive salaries of top stars who are paid more than the Taoiseach.
Dee Forbes had to swing to the defence of presenters like Ryan Tubridy and Marian Finucane when she appeared at the Oireachtas Communications Committee.
It came just hours after the Government decided to bail out the broadcaster to the tune of €50m over five years.
Communications Minister Richard Bruton denied he had caved in to RTE's demands, saying the broadcaster had sought around twice as much.
RTE's financial difficulties see it preparing to cut 200 jobs and seek 15pc salary cuts from some of its best-paid talent as part of efforts to save €60m over three years.
Committee chairperson Hildegarde Naughton challenged Ms Forbes on how RTE sets salaries for its stars.
She said one presenter - understood to be Finucane - earned around €300,000 for hosting two shows a week and this was "well in excess" of the Taoiseach's salary.
She didn't name Finucane but RTE figures show the presenter earned €300,617 for hosting her two weekend radio shows in 2016.
Ms Forbes said: "The role of presenting a show and being a broadcaster can be a difficult one... it's not something anybody can do despite what the public might think. We value the contributions highly that these individuals make."
Ms Forbes argued that of the top 10 best-paid broadcasters in Ireland, "certainly five of them will be outside RTE". She said it was a "myth" that there isn't a market for presenters.
She added that RTE has asked its key presenters to accept a 15pc pay cut and this was on top of a 30pc cut they had taken in recent years.
Ms Forbes said one of its top stars has agreed to take a pay cut which she said is "in excess of 15pc". She did not reveal the identity of the presenter.
She said talks with the rest of the top-paid stars are "ongoing".
Later, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett argued that the possibility of stars going to England is "not going to happen in the age of Amazon and Netflix".
He told Ms Forbes: "You would help your cause with the public if you talked about a cap of salaries."
Mr Boyd-Barrett said pay that's higher than the Taoiseach's is "not conscionable" and can't be defended.
The RTE director general was critical of delays in bringing in a new broadcasting charge to replace the TV licence fee.
The charge would be aimed at bringing households that don't pay the licence fee - but use RTE's streaming service - into the net.
Ms Forbes said that under current government plans the introduction of such a charge could be as much as seven years away and that this is "completely untenable".
Senator Michael McDowell said the delay amounted to a "seven-year holiday from reality" and suggested it may be "because of the electoral cycle".
Mr Bruton denied the introduction of a broadcasting charge is being delayed until after the next general election.
He was asked about Ms Forbes' criticism of delays to the charge and if changes to the funding mechanism could be made sooner. "That remains to be seen," Mr Bruton said.
He pointed to government plans to put the collection of the current TV licence fee out to tender, saying: "It is believed that that would cut the default rate to about 7pc so that would be worth a significant sum of money to RTE."
Separately in the Dail, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to cost-cutting plans by RTE to close Lyric FM's Limerick studios. He said any decision on their location should be deferred until a new Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting reports.
Along with announcing €10m-a-year extra funding for RTE, Mr Bruton said the Government had decided to set up the new commission.
The National Union of Journalists called on the Government to broaden the remit of the commission to include the future of print and digital.