RTÉ scandal symptomatic of capitalist misuse of public money

Initially written for the 1 July 2023 issue of Unity by Eoin Ó Murchu

SOUTH of the border, politics is in a state of flux.  The airwaves are filled with discussions of scandals, and demands for accountability abound on all sides.

But what has sparked this sense of crisis and uncertainty? Not housing, not health, not even neutrality has produced the convulsions we see, but a petty scandal in the national broadcaster RTÉ.

It has emerged that, in addition to obscenely high sums being paid to top presenters, ranging from over €200,00 a year to over €400.000, additional secret payments were made – off the books – to top presenter Ryan Tubridy, secret payments of €75,000 or so on top of over €400,000.

And who else got such is exercising the mind of the body public.

These inflated sums were paid out at a time when the general staff of RTÉ were confronted with pay cuts, with reductions of programming output, with restrictions on replacing staff who left. 

They were paid out at a time when existing inequalities of pay were maintained and defended by top management with the excuse that the station didn’t have the wherewithal to correct these injustices.

So, journalists working in Irish for Raidió na Gaeltachta, remained at lower pay levels than their English-speaking counterparts in RTÉ Radio, even though they did exactly the same work, if not more, but in a different language.

RFTÉ spokesperson have been wailing about the need to restore trust. 

What nonsense.  RTE is transparently biased, especially among its top ten presenters, against national culture, against Republicanism, against left wing political ideas, against criticisms of the EU, against the upholding of neutrality.

There has been no trust in the honesty or objectivity of RTÉ news coverage for a very long time, so there is no trust that needs to be rebuilt.

What we are seeing is the inevitable outcome of a culture that hasn’t seen the national broadcaster as a vehicle to develop an Irish outlook on the world, but just another player in the Western world of entertainment big business.

And in that world, the inflated salaries of the top ten are critical in defining the status of the station in the eyes of those who run out.

Of course, we need to find out why and how secret payments were made at a time when the rest of us were being exhorted to tighten our belts. 

But the central question is why were such salaries paid in the first place.

Put simply, Ryan Tubridy is not worth over €400,000 a year plus whatever secret payment he got.

Brendan O’Connor and Joe Duffy with their regular anti-national rants are not worth over €200,000 a year.

Indeed, several years ago the RTÉ branch of the NUJ passed a resolution demanding a cap on top salaries.  Top management ignored them.

Now, with the staff and the public equally incensed, the vultures are gathering to try and gut the national broadcaster of its national purpose.

Political voices of the Right are being raised to demand more, not less, commercialisation of broadcasting.

What is need is genuine reform that re-established service to the people as the primary purpose of a national broadcaster, and this is a question of equal importance North of the Border, where Unionist fanatics like Stephen Nolan have open season – at an equally obscene salary – to push the anti-protocol and anti-executive line.

The Irish language service, TG4, has shown what can be done, even with limited budgets – a budget in TG4’s case that is only a fraction of what RTÉ has and what RTÉ squanders on vanity projects and vanity presenters.

Good documentaries that examine Irish life, Irish history, the choices, environmental and political and economic and social that we face. 

TG4 gives a service to the people.  It exists for that purpose and not for the self-importance of celebrities and top management.

And, after all the brouhaha, the Government, instead of getting on with the job of making RTÉ a genuine national broadcaster, has decided to pause its review of broadcasting while we examine the entrails of a scandal that is really just part of the normal behaviour of the capitalist system.

But, if the politicians won’t face up to what needs to be faced up to, then the unions, representing the workers whose sacrifices have paid for the celebrities and the vanities, need to step up to the plate and demand the reforms that real national broadcasting need.

Less old guff, and more concrete action, please.

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