In a normal radio land post we have three main stories alongside Quick Bits. This week has been no normal week though so instead we’re doing things slightly differently. We’re going to be focusing on the RTÉ Payments news in detail, but if you want brief summaries of other radio news you can click the below link to skip the RTÉ payments stuff.
Okay, where do we even start?
On Thursday, the RTÉ board issued a statement that instantly became headline news on all Irelands main news publications, and it even received international coverage from the BBC. The board confirmed that for years, RTÉ had underreported the pay of its highest paid presenter Ryan Tubridy, to the tune of €345,000.
Tubridy’s pay was already controversial, so when it was revealed that the numbers were underreported for years this caused significant anger.
RTE had a deal with Ryan where in addition to his regular RTÉ pay, he would also receive a payment from a sponsor to do personal engagements. In exchange for the brand paying Tubridy, RTÉ took less money off them for sponsorship.
That was the idea at least. RTE would pay a brand to pay Tubridy by giving them a reduced sponsorship rate. That might make it easier for RTÉ to sell the sponsorship as they could now include a few visits from Tubridy, and all should go well. Except, it didn’t.
While a brand paid the €75,000 bill in 2020, they didn’t renew it in 2021 or 2022, and as RTÉ had guaranteed this money to Ryan, they had to pay directly instead. In 2022 they paid up €150,000 for the two years.
All this is fine, but the issue is they never shared this info with the public. RTE shared pay details for its top 10 presenters, but it now emerges that those never included this extra pay to Ryan.
There’s also €120,000 of combined undeclared tubs payments for 2017, 2018 and 2019, but we don’t know the craic with that yet. It’s still being investigated.
As a broadcaster heavily reliant on a licence fee paid by its viewers, RTÉ not disclosing these payments was a huge breach of trust, and many people felt that this failure in transparency was simply unacceptable.
What Happened next?
The statements and responses started. First up came statement number one from Ryan.
Like many people, I’m surprised by the announcements made in RTÉ’s statement today regarding the errors in the reporting of its accounts. It is unfortunate that these errors are in relation to how RTÉ have reported payments made to me but I just want to be clear: this is a matter for RTÉ and I have no involvement in RTÉ’s internal accounting treatment or RTÉ’s public declarations in connection with such payments, Obviously, I’m disappointed to be at the centre of this story but unfortunately, I can’t shed any light on why RTÉ treated these payments in the way that they did nor can I answer for their mistakes in this regard.”Ryan statement number one
Next up came NK Management who represent Ryan.
“We were made aware today of RTÉ’s statement concerning its accounting treatment and public declarations of payments made to Ryan Tubridy.” These are matters for which RTÉ has sole responsibility and accountability. There is no issue whatsoever in relation to the payments being properly and lawfully due and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Ryan Tubridy or NK Management, These issues are solely concerned with RTÉ’s internal accounting treatment and public declarations in respect of such lawful payments.”NK management statement
One of the statements with the most potential impact came from the NUJ or National Union of journalists. they actually had a number of statements so I’m going to just link to an article with those here.
Everyone and there mother made statements so we’ll focus on one more for now. Ryan had a follow up statement in which he apologised.
While I have no responsibility for the corporate governance in RTÉ or how or what they publish in their accounts, when my earnings were published I should have asked questions at the time and sought answers as to the circumstances which resulted in incorrect figures being published, I didn’t, and I bear responsibility for my failure to do so. For this, I apologise unreservedly. For the avoidance of doubt, all my earnings from RTÉ have at all times been included in my company’s accounts that were prepared by my accountant and filed with the Companies Registration Office and all my taxes are up to date. My filed accounts with details of these earnings have previously been reported on in the media. At the centre of all of this is trust. The trust of colleagues in RTÉ and the trust of a great many people who listen to my show, To them: I wholeheartedly apologise for my error of judgement. Separately, it has been reported that I did not take a pay cut over the last number of years. This is simply not true. Over the period of my contract with RTÉ, I have been asked to take several reductions in salary and I did. Indeed, between 2012 and today, my pay from RTÉ was cut by approximately 40%. I also wish to respond to suggestions that this issue had some bearing on my decision to step down from hosting the Late Late Show. It did not. Finally, I am disappointed that RTÉ has decided that for editorial reasons I should not broadcast my radio show next week. I look forward to returning to the radio show, a job I love, as soon as possible and I hope my listeners and my colleagues appreciate my sincerity on this,”Ryan’s second statement.
Outside of statements, Dee Forbes was suspended, and the minister is meeting the head of the RTÉ board later today.
The whole thing is a mess and I’m only scratching the surface here. RTE has had many controversies in recent years and I’ve covered many of them for radio land, but this is by far the biggest I’ve seen.
The damage here is huge. We don’t know the full extent of the impact yet, but we can be sure of a few things.
RTE needs its audience to trust it. That will have been hurt this week. Rebuilding trust is hard, so RTÉ really better hope that they avoid controversies going forward.
It’s not just the audience either. Could the discontent of staff escalate to industrial action? it’s not impossible. RTE is also going to have trouble getting extra funding now as questions will be asked if they can be trusted with it.
Long term public service broadcasting in Ireland will be hurt, and that’s really bad.
It’s going to be a tough road ahead for RTÉ. They’re used to controversy but this could impact them like nothing they’ve faced before. Toy Show The Musical under performed financially,, Dublin Pride pulled their RTÉ partnership, and of course don’t forget the retirement party, yet this incident trumps all of that. RTE messed up big time and they’re going to need to work very hard to rebuild their reputation.
There are some things RTÉ could do to start rebuilding trust. Should RTÉ senior managers take a pay cut for the year to repay the tax payer? Channel 4 in the UK is going through financial trouble at the moment, and their managers have deferred bonuses. Should RTÉ do the same?
RTE often get criticised, sometimes unfairly. This isn’t one of those times. They need to do something to show the public they understand that this is different. How exactly to do that is tough, but it has to be done for the future of public service broadcasting.
This is a developing story so we’ll need to leave it here for now, but I’d certainly recommend following the developments in this story as it’s not going to stop any time soon.
Would you trust RTÉ more if managers took a solidarity pay cut? Let us know on our Instagram story
Post publication update
An external review is to be carried out into the governance and culture at RTÉ.
In some slightly less insane RTÉ News, they are selling a podcast sponsorship. You can get 10 seconds at the start and end of 40 episodes of insights with Sean O Rourke. The price tag is a cool €20,000.
Coimisiún na Meán set out their plans for the future of media regulation this week. Most focused on online stuff, but there are bits of interest to us radio folk. Notably Sound and Vision is staying, which is great to see.
And that’s the summary for this week. Come back to radio land next week for more radio news📻 and be sure to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for more fun from the world of radio.