Reeling In The Year

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From top: RTE’s annual report for 2018; Vanessa Foran

Yesterday, RTÉ published its annual report which revealed a deficit of €13m for 2018.

Vanessa Foran writes:

My very first column for Broadsheet was a walkabout through the RTÉ Year that was 2016. The following (which didn’t make the final cut) is from that first draft back in July 2017:

“Another item s the Orchestra – 7.1% (€12,716,100) Now I would like to think that that activity could pay its own way, and with 211 whole-time staff allocation I feel it needs to be more Value for Money focused rather than its optic and isn’t it nice all the same. Isn’t that what the Arts Council is for?

Yes, I thought then the orchestras were an indulgence in RTÉ, my reasoning was that it’s not their core activity it didn’t deserve to be underwritten by licence payer.

So here we are two years on, and the same expenditure item now – in the just published 2018 report –  has a great big red nose.

So red in fact they went to the trouble of commissioning a report from Helen Boaden of Mediatique to devise a strategy around the future of the RTÉ Orchestras; you’ll find this was introduced to us by the Chair Moya Doherty (pg 18) in the meantime, rightly or wrongly, I’m finding it difficult to put any faith in a firm called Mediatique.

So back to the basics. I will remind you all again that the purpose of published accounts is to allow the user to form their own opinion. Therefore, what follows here is not meant to confirm your opinion or to proffer advice.

In between all the glamour shots of the same faces and bragging statistics, you’ll find this
“RTÉ scored 39 of the top spots on TAM Irelands most watched television in 2018” (pg 6.)

The issue I have with information like this being introduced is that it shouldn’t be left naked of any quantitative detail to allow comparison.

Like; 39 out of what? Were these 39 places 1 to 39 or were there scattered throughout the field? How much of these places were won by own content?

Director General Dee Forbes has had two full financial years under her leadership, 2017 and 2018, (she commenced mid 2016) yet blames Brexit and changing media consumption for the drop in Commercial Revenue (down 1.6m btw. Pg23) and specifically name drops advertising spend and paltry currency €:UK£ takings.

In other words, RTÉ is operating along the basis that revenues are outside their control.

The reason I’m irked is that over the previous columns I have flagged that lack of strategic investment in creating marketable and new content, content that can be sold and exported. Licenced content owned by RTÉ that is not just old news archives. Content that is not fronted by the same faces.

Every bill RTÉ has to pay is pretty much underwritten by the State, so why should we not expect them to be adventurous and ambitious, and take risk with new content, and with new writers and formats?

It’s a very disappointing turn up for me about Dee Forbes, it is her job as CEO to take responsibility, and blaming outsiders for falling income is a tell-tale sign of poor leadership.

Another example is her reference to the monies paid to An Post for collecting the licence; (31.9m pg34 + 9.59m pg30) she actually uses the expression “Not fit For Purpose.”

She further enhances her point about Ireland’s licence evasion level (14%) with a barred remark that came with a graphic (above) to suggest we are the boldest audience in Europe.

If you were expecting to note some financial markers from me, I have to admit there came a point in the report that I just had enough of it. It was like watching a repeat, of a repeat; which sums up RTÉ very well.

But here’s one I would like to draw your attention to; operating costs are up €5m. Special Events apparently.

Despite their attempt to treat the Presidential election as a special event; IMO it should be accrued over 7 years and it’s obviously in the programme planning.  But that’s it with accounting jargon, since I’m unable to see past the Sustainability and Going Concern issues.

For example, their Papal visit coverage was indulgent, lurid even, while their awe was unreciprocated by their audience. It was 1979 in approach; yet somehow this report will insist it’s the Irish audience’s fault for not paying their licence or that there are “more homes without traditional television.”

In my view these operating costs are only going to go up, which is why I’m drawing attention to it because salaries are about to be reinstated to their full agreement pre- the Voluntary Redundancy/ Early Retirement schemes which probably have had their run.

Just a number of items before I go, on page 29 there is mention of Legal Proceedings. Nothing so see here perhaps, since all public profile entities are dealing with multiple sets of proceedings at anyone time. But you know, I think we were entitled to at least know the value of the provision being set aside, don’t you?

On page 148 Note 26: Related parties’ transactions, specifically (b) transactions with Key Staff / Board members and or their connections; €1.1 million in the year. Oh look, it’s down on €1.4 million in 2017. And that’s all we’re getting.

But I want some more. I want to know who got what from both those sums, down to the last cent; and so should everyone else.

The report was 164 pages, take out the pictures and bragging and you’re left with an organisation that is burning at both ends and using excuses as a fire blanket.

I’m obliged to introduce you to one new face, especially since he beat me out to that seat on the board, Mr Ian Kehoe. To be fair though, I wasn’t even shortlisted by State Boards and the Minister.

Open to correction since I might have been singing or something at the time, but I didn’t hear Mr Kehoe being introduced as a Director on the RTÉ Board the last time he was on the wireless? Did you?

If we expect it from the Sunday Business Post and the siblings of Government Ministers, we must surely insist RTÉ do the same.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.

Annual report here

Yesterday: Unsustainable

Meanwhile…

Anyone?

32 thoughts on “Reeling In The Year

  1. Timothy

    Not sure what Vanessa’s point was about the orchestras? Did she actually read the Mediatique report? Because if she did she would learn that the report proposes moving the National Symphony Orchestra away from RTE and under the control of a new entity linked with the National Concert Hall. It would no longer be funded by RTE and instead be funded through its own performances (ticket sales), commercial sponsors (private), and the Dept of Arts (tax payers).

    The RTE Concert Orchestra would stay with RTE.

    1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      Hi Timothy

      The moment I took a look, and I only got to see the published sanitized report (YE 2016 Published July 2017 btw) I knew RTÉ Orchestras were a problem

      Yet, like so many other fatted and cushioned organisations they try to wait it out because they can afford to.

      My point really is, the Board of Director’s get management accounts and internal cost reports month in month out. Why wait until 2018? Why get someone else to tell them whats going on? Why point to someone else’s reasoning than their own?

      Like, Why pay someone else to tell you what to do next?
      That’s not Governance
      Nor is it Leadership

      Dee Forbes should have brought it Board herself by Year End 2016; she had six months on the job at that point, and she should have known what had to be done, and she should have advised her Board likewise.

      I did and I’m not getting paid to know.
      I wasn’t even good enough to make the shortlist for that last vacant seat on the Board

  2. eoin

    The licence fee evasion graph is just misleading. The UK’s National Audit Office has produced a report which shows that Scotland and Northern Ireland’s evasion rates are similar to the Republic of Ireland’s, it’s just the Welsh and English that are dutifully buying TV licences. When RTE fails to disclose this fact (presumably in its campaign to lobby for the privatisation of licence collection where untoward methods can be used, like in the UK,), this indicates much else of its report is just that, a campaign to lobby for something or other.

  3. eoin

    Re, the orchestras, there is a condition in RTE’s establishment that it’s supposed to fund the orchestras. RTE is trying and I believe has succeeded in getting the FG culture and compo minister, Josepha Madigan to shell out €4m a year of taxpayers’ funding to subsidise what RTE is supposed to be funding from the licence fee. If Josepha doesn’t think her actions will be scrutinised, she has (yet another) lesson coming.

  4. eoin

    And lastly, re the new board member, Ian Kehoe, big whoop, it pays €16k a year, but it’s fierce handy for when you want to promote your new ventures like ;-)

  5. SOMK

    Seems the entire modus operandi of RTÉ is deluded. It aims as an organisation to essentially ape what is done by equivalent organisations in countries with far higher populations and resources, therefore far different dynamics of organisational scale, there is a latent inferiority complex within RTÉ in that, having BBC or equivalent on your CV is a golden ticket, so literally if you’re a relativity TV contestant in Britain and have sufficient level of literacy to read an auto cue, you have a presenter job for life waiting for you in Montrose. That’s their idea of ‘talent’.

    It doesn’t make any sense for an organisation like RTÉ to have foreign correspondents, especially as they just toe the US/UK foreign policy line when it comes to Venezuela or Syria or Russia, Skype a freelance in maybe have news staff read political theory book or two? Whole thing should be torn apart and rebuilt from the ground up, salary cap of say 60,000, you want more fine, go join another origination and best of luck with your career. It’s not like the like of Ryan Tubridy has this unique skill set you couldn’t find in any pub in Ireland with a patronage of over 40 people. Forget importing US TV shows big films, people have Netflix now, waste of money, forget sports coverage, leave it to TV3 (on condition they don’t put half of it on their paid channels), get rid of advertising, have a limit on how long people can work for RTÉ like say five years tops, ditch radio broadcasting do digital only everyone has smartphones now. Pursue a nationwide arts lab style model, drop in centres where people can make short films, news reports for local broadcasts, a kind of perpetual education system. Look to forge localised networks of program makers, if you build networks of people who trust and know each other they can make work on bigger projects such as full programes or films, documentaries etc. together, maintain a baseline of domestic-focused programming, fix the bloody app or delete it, take a much more proactive role in searching out talent: if there’s 6 teenagers someone making funny videos in Tallaght RTE should know, be able to offer support and help (not to the point of making a programme but helping to make sure creative people with a genuine enthusiasm have a path should they wish to follow it, show cool old films no one’s ever seen like channel four used to before it went crap, start-up accelerometer style model for bringing program ideas to fruition, actually appreciate the fact that Ireland is a country awash with talent that shouldn’t have to emigrate as soon as they qualify because there’s more opportunity in London because RTÉ is run as a closed shop for the most entitled people in Ireland…

  6. Iwerzon

    RTÉ Board members should publicly declare a conflict when appearing on TV or radio. I’d go as far to say that all board members should be prohibited from appearing on RTÉ unless in their capacity as a board member.

  7. curmudgeon

    The only real problem RTE has its that its gets funded via the license which irks the ordinary citizen as they have to pay this out of their pocket. This is in direct contrast to all other semi-states, quangos and charities which are funded stealthily via general taxation. The upshot is that it’s slightly harder for RTE to squander and pilfer from the public purse than it is for the others on the gravy train.

  8. eoin

    One last point, RTE made a profit (they call it a “surplus”) of €0.7m in 2013 and a profit of €0.2m in 2014. Under Dee Forbes, RTE lost €19m in 2016, €6m in 2017 and €13m in 2018. Dee Forbes is, in my opinion, just not competent enough to cut RTE’s cloth according to its means. Under her management, RTE has sold off UK spectrum, RTE lands and is now lining up the RTE Guide for sale, with the proceeds squandered to mask the inability at Montrose to manage budgets. I’m not sure how long her contract is as DG, but she should certainly not be extended and serious consideration should be given to getting her out early.

    1. curmudgeon

      What makes you think her job is to cut costs? RTE chose her to keep the gravy train rolling. Why cut costs when you can just show the govt of the day a powerpoint and blame the license fee amount, heck why would any business bother cutting their cloth if the state is just going to give them the cash anyway. It happened with the banks in 2008 – pay yourselves ridiculous sums and when it all goes bust simply have the govt give the hit to the taxpayer.

    1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      Ah dote
      Thank you

      Wasn’t it you that screen grabbed that one and sent in on?
      Maybe t’was Janie
      or Sheila

      I’d check but I don’t access that email since it was tampered with
      and for my sanity’s sake

      Tell ya what, that’s an early BS.tv one, look
      the old office
      and I’ve aged 10 years over the last 8/9 months

      so it’s kinda cheating I suppose

  9. Wringham

    Can’t watch RTE in N.I. due to “rights restrictions” ? odds are that your NI internet service provider has issued you with an English IP address. Not an uncommon problem in NI. This would explain why you’ve been geo-blocked. No conspiracy in the halls of power. Just computers being stupid.

      1. eoin

        Actually V, I’m very surprised at you that you didn’t mention the fact that the accounts disclose how much the DG of RTE, Dee Forbes gets, €250k plus €25k car allowance plus €63k pension contribution.

        Imagine if the GAA disclosed that sort of detail, wha? Imagine the GAA being less open than RTE, wha? Imagine the GAA being a damned sight sleazier than RTE, wha?

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