Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Wednesday, 28 Jan 2009

Business of Joint Committee.

Senator Walsh has indicated that he wishes to raise an issue under any other business.

I thank the clerk for circulating correspondence received from RTE. I refer to the meeting we had with Mr. Cathal Goan, the director general of RTE, and his team. I thought they were very good on the financial plans they had in order to meet the €50 million shortfall this year. At the time, a question was asked as to the contractual broadcasters they have and whether they were taking a corresponding reduction in their fees. I note in the paper that there were some comments that they were not. Apparently, the reason for the high contractual sums, as was stated that day, is the advertising revenues that they attract. With the significant reduction that RTE has in those revenues, the specific question I put to Mr. Goan was whether there was a provision within the contract for the contractual sum or fee to flex with advertising if it falls, or is RTE locked into a fixed, high fee even with significant reductions in income.

If the answer to that question is that such a provision is not included, is there any general provision within the contracts to address the issue? It is untenable that people who are on incomes of €300,000 to €1 million would not take any reductions, if people within the organisation on €40,000, €50,000 or €60,000 are being asked to take a reduction and are doing so. There is a need for that within RTE, as there is such a need across society. That is the purpose of raising this matter.

I do not accept that it is a sensitive contractual situation. RTE is funded to a significant degree by the licence fee. Many people who are paying the licence fee are currently losing employment. It would take 7,000 people to pay one of those broadcasters the fee that is credited to them. I am not trying in any way to interfere with the fee, but I think there should be a reduction if everybody else is taking a reduction. That is the point I am making. As I said, it is unjust when one sees people on lower incomes taking a reduction. Given the current climate, it is important that everybody, including people in the public eye who are important opinion-formers in society, are in privileged positions and are on very high salaries, is seen to participate and play their part in the correction that is now taking place right across the economy. It is a much wider issue than the mere contract. We are entitled to that information. I ask the committee to support the line I am taking to seek that information. If we fail to get it, we should invite the director general back again. I put that proposal to the committee.

I fully support my colleague, Senator Walsh, in that regard. I thank RTE for the information that has been supplied but I agree with the sentiments Senator Walsh expressed, given the times that are in it. Obviously everybody must tighten their belts across the board. We all have to do it, so it would be completely untenable for anyone to avoid doing so, whoever they are and whatever contract they may have. I note that these figures are for 2006, which is over two years ago, and I am a little shocked by them. We need to get proper answers to the questions we posed. While I respect the job done by these people and, as Senator Walsh said, they are important opinion-formers, they can also be critical of politicians and have been. I have no problem with taking criticism but my contract is with the people of south Tipperary who can tear it up, or do what they like with it, at the next election.

I have to fight that election but this situation is mad; it is an outrage. If the public got to know about it they would be more outraged and there would be far fewer people paying the licence fee. Could one blame them? We need to get proper information and answers to our questions. Maybe we will then have some discussion on the chat shows about what is going on in the country. It is interesting information but it is not accurate and it is not enough.

I will ask the clerk to contact RTE in order to see if we can get that particular information. We will put the matter on the agenda for our next meeting. If there is no other business, the meeting stands adjourned.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.35 a.m. until 9.45 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 February 2009.