Thursday, June 13, 2024

Did you hear the one about the DJ, the TD and the Financial Officer who didn’t know his own salary?

Perhaps one of the most surrealist pieces of television in recent times came last week courtesy of the Oireachtas Committee’s investigation of the ‘payments problem’ at RTÉ when the broadcaster’s Chief Financial Officer, Richard Collins, wasn’t sure what his own salary was.

Having tried to avoid answering the question, saying it was “a private matter”, he eventually relented under much pressure from the Committee, saying: “I believe my salary is around €200,000 plus a car allowance of €25,000 but it’s in and around that.”

For those watching on, a company’s CFO not knowing what his own salary was is beyond bizarre.

That said, there were many surreal moments from an investigation which many said was inevitable; salaries at RTÉ for its ‘top talent’ were way out of line and something had to be done, was a popular view.

What most of us did not know was the anger that was building up within the mere mortals, the staff, at RTÉ and we saw that too with demonstrations by them at Montrose and in Limerick.

We heard household names like Ciaran Mullooly (who retired from the station last year), Sinead Hussey, Conor Wilson and Emma O’Kelly express their anger at the undisclosed payments (to Ryan Tubridy) scandal.

On Twitter, there was a storm of protest; one of the most frequently tweeted messages was along the lines of ‘I’m never paying my television licence again’.

Honestly, there has always been a tranche of people who believed the law doesn’t apply to them. They didn’t pay the licence fee anyway. They didn’t need a scandal at RTÉ as serious as this current one in order to let everyone else pay for something that has to be paid for. People like that exist everywhere.

‘Certainly it isn’t easy to hand over €160 a year when you see what’s happening at the station…’

What is another scandal is that the licence fee collection method is so porous that so many people can get away without paying it – maybe someday, an Oireachtas Committee will look at that. The fact is that if you have a TV (or receiving screen), you have to have a licence.

It isn’t an option. You don’t need to approve of how RTÉ operates, how good or bad it is or whether Ryan Tubridy or any other ‘talent’ receives undisclosed payments. You just have to have a licence.

Certainly it isn’t easy to hand over €160 a year when you see what’s happening at the station, and the need for RTÉ to re-invent itself is both obvious and urgent.

So maybe it is time for government to reconsider the funding model for the broadcaster; maybe the licence fee method is outdated, and perhaps a streaming fee (like Netflix or NOW) would be more appropriate.

If that left RTÉ short of funds, then maybe it is time that it adapted to a new world – maybe then it would stop paying ridiculously high fees to ‘talent’, maybe then it would stop ‘undisclosed payments’.

And what of Ryan Tubridy himself? There has never been any suggestion of wrong-doing on his part, yet still so many people on social media say he “is finished”, even industry professionals. Do we live in a world where there is no road to redemption, no forgiveness, no doubt? Is that how we would like to be treated?

The harsh world that we live in has been once again exposed, this time by ‘undisclosed payments’. Most of us don’t live in a world where they exist and, in history, the innocent tend to also be the vulnerable.

How sad is that.

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