Ireland RTÉ in crisis because it is 'useless' at lobbying for more money and 'went a bit crazy' over stars' pay - Davin-Power
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RTÉ's financial crisis is a result of it being "the most useless organisation" at lobbying government, according to one of its former political correspondents.
David Davin-Power, who retired in 2017 after nearly two decades as RTÉ's political correspondent, said the Government was "deeply unsympathetic" to the broadcaster's financial plight.
But he described the broadcaster's efforts at lobbying senior politicians as "inadequate" over the past five years and coming too late.
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He also said that top presenters' salaries - sanctioned by management "who went a bit crazy" - have done "huge damage" to RTÉ's standing with the public over the past decade.
RTÉ announced 200 job cuts and a raft of other cost-cutting measures this week as part of a major restructuring plan that aims to reduce costs by €60m in the next three years. Director general Dee Forbes said the station was in a "fight for its future".
Mr Davin-Power told the Irish Independent: "RTÉ's efforts to put its case to ministers have been inadequate for the last five years and that's reflected in the views of some senior ministers and former ministers.
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"Whichever one said that RTÉ is the most useless organisation in lobbying the Government is absolutely on the money.
"I remember a former minister responsible with responsibility for the licence fee telling me he was never ever approached by RTÉ during an earlier bid to get an increase.
"I just was a bit aghast at the failure of any attempt to have any lobbying of the politicians when this thing began. I think that's at the core of it. The lobbying has been very poor."
RTÉ has repeatedly called on the Government to reform the licence fee in order to take account of more and more people consuming its programming on mobile phones and tablet devices - and insisted it was not looking for a bailout.
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But Mr Davin-Power said he did not believe the Government had been convinced by the broadcaster's arguments in recent years.
"I think the Government is deeply unsympathetic to RTÉ; they can't believe RTÉ came looking for more money without setting out what they regard as a coherent business case.
"The crisis has been building for three years now, but they seem to have left it too late."
RTÉ has said it will reduce the pay of its top contracted on-air presenters by 15pc, but Mr Davin-Power said the big salaries had damaged the station's standing with the public during the financial crash.
"People say the star salaries are irrelevant - and they are in the great scheme of things - but they are indicative of a management that went a bit crazy for a decade and those pay packets did huge damage to the station's standing with the public during the years of the crash," he said.
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The Communications Minister said RTE will still be around in five years but only if it reforms.RTE confirmed it is seeking to cut its workforce by 200 as one of a series of measures to tackle its financial crisis and reduce costs by 60 million euro over the next three years.
"Nobody wants to see RTÉ prosper more than me - it might be on its knees now but it's a vital national institution.
"But as well as cutbacks and economies there will have to be changes in the management structure too if any government is to begin to listen to their arguments."
Mr Davin-Power, a former presenter of 'Morning Ireland' and the station's Northern Editor in the 1990s, said it was ironic the broadcaster's financial plight was being discussed and debated in the same week that former 'Late Late Show' presenter Gay Byrne died.
"I was thinking it's extraordinary how RTÉ's glory days in terms of public affection are co-terminous with the heyday of Gay Byrne, it's quite ironic that what's happening today is what's happening today.
"When Gay Byrne retired or started to wind down, a sort of bidding war with top salaries began. All the problems with big star salaries came up," he said. "Less than a decade later Pat Kenny was paid nearly a million in 2007.
"In his day, Gay was a tall poppy and management more or less held the line and when Gay left everyone wanted to be better than Gay."
Mr Kenny, who presented a weekday radio programme, 'The Late Late Show', and later 'The Frontline' and 'Prime Time' during his time at RTÉ, earned more than €950,000 in 2009.
He took a series of pay cuts that reduced his salary to €630,000 before he left the station to join Newstalk in 2013.
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