Statement from Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, on RTÉ

  • 30 Jun 2023

At a meeting of the NUJ Dublin Broadcasting branch, Dooley reaffirmed the union’s defence of public service broadcasting and urged government to protect employment and services in RTÉ.


Listening to the presentation by RTÉ Executive Board members at the Public Accounts Committee in defending the World Cup junket on the grounds that such hospitality is a legitimate part of the client relationship I was reminded of a quote from Al Capone: “It’s a sweet racket if you can keep the boys in line.”

It is clear to me that the imperative of keeping the boys sweet was the driving force of those in RTÉ who view commercial success as the benchmark by which Ireland’s public service broadcaster can be judged. Keeping a small number of boys sweet.

The NUJ proudly stands in defence of public service broadcasting and the core principles of public service journalism.

That Al Capone quote is from “Sit down and be counted” written by Jack Dowling, Lelia Doolan, and Bob Quinn in 1969 following a turbulent period in the early days of this station. The authors highlight the chasm between management and the workers who took a stand in defence of public service values, expressed as “there are diametrically opposed views of culture within the station and that these reflect, in little, the crisis in process outside it.”

It’s profoundly depressing that the issues raised by Dowling, Quinn, and Doolan my former lecturer, are as relevant to yesterday’s proceedings in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as they were before many of you were born, when TDs complained that on £7,500 a year the first director general was earning more than Ministers.

Emma O’Kelly, Chair, Dublin Broadcasting branch, today referred to the alarm among members at the influence of commercial forces on the future of RTÉ and the security of employment within this organisation.

My message to government today is that employment and services in RTÉ must be protected.

The financial crisis in RTÉ has not been trigged by corporate governance failure but by inaction on funding and on the licence collection system. The corporate governance failures have compounded the crisis but have come at a heavy high cost.

The cost of the secret deals, the sweetheart arrangements, and the malpractices which we have long highlighted is far greater than the figures quoted at PAC or provided by financial analysis. You cannot put a cost on the loss of public trust.

As a branch I think we need to ensure that the Terms of Reference for the external review encompass the workplace culture and that the voice of workers is heard and represented on the oversight panel.

The incoming director general needs to make the holding of union and staff meetings his top priority.

There needs to be immediate engagement with the TUG and the unions on the proposed register of interests.

RTÉ needs to implement the editorial guidelines and standards across the organisation, for staff and contractors.

We also need to remind members of our Code of Conduct including:

  • A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties.
  • A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.

In relation to the work of PAC I believe we should call on the former Director General, the Director of Content and our colleague Ryan Tubridy to appear before the committee.

I believe Noel Kelly should also appear, but I don’t suppose he would be influenced by an NUJ motion.

On funding I have a real concern that the government is willing to pause public service broadcasting reform at a time when commercial income is dropping, and licence fee income is likely to fall.

I favour a fully funded service, but no government is going to allow this to happen, and I think we need to be careful about any policy which seeks to abandon sponsorship or advertising in the absence of guaranteed State funding.

Transparent, ethical structures are capable within a dual model, and we should not allow the actions of a few to destroy RTÉ’s ability to serve the Irish people.


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