Irish media minister announces external review of governance and culture at RTE

The move follows the revelation that Ryan Tubridy was paid several hundred thousand euro more than RTE had previously declared.

David Young
Saturday 24 June 2023 19:03 BST
Catherine Martin has announced an external review of governance and culture at RTE (Nick Bradshaw/PA)
Catherine Martin has announced an external review of governance and culture at RTE (Nick Bradshaw/PA) (PA Wire)

Ireland’s media minister has announced an external review of governance and culture at RTE following the controversy around the under-reporting of the salary paid to its star broadcaster Ryan Tubridy.

Catherine Martin said a Government decision on the future funding model of the national broadcaster would also be paused pending the outcome of the review.

The move follows the revelation that Tubridy was paid several hundred thousand euro more than RTE had previously declared.

RTE apologised on Thursday after admitting that between 2017 and 2022 former Late Late Show host Tubridy received a series of payments totalling 345,000 euro (£295,000) above his annual published salary.

On Friday, director general of RTE Dee Forbes was suspended amid the fallout from the furore rocking the broadcaster.

On Saturday, a senior executive emailed staff at RTE to apologise and inform them that new contracts have been paused pending the implementation of new oversight measures.

Ms Martin announced the external review after meeting the chairwoman of the RTE Board, Siun Ni Raghallaigh, at her department in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

The minister warned that the scale of the issues facing RTE was verging on an “existential crisis” and a “root and branch” review was required.

RTE has commissioned its own external probe, by auditors Grant Thornton, into the contracts of other higher earners at the broadcaster.

Ms Martin said the “revelations signal potential deeper challenges in the organisation”.

“I have therefore decided there needs to be an external review of governance and culture at RTE,” she said.

“The purpose of this review will be to determine what fundamental or systemic issues need to be addressed, including the adequacy of internal controls.

“While as minister I cannot get involved in the day to day operation of RTE, I do need assurance that the governance and culture is fit for purpose.

“Public trust in RTE must be rebuilt. Therefore, a Government decision on the future funding model for public service broadcasting has been paused until such time as this review is complete and the findings considered.

“My officials will develop terms of reference in this regard over the coming week, and I will expect the full co-operation of the RTE Board and senior executives in engaging with this review and in engaging with Oireachtas committees in the coming period.”

After the meeting, Ms Ni Raghallaigh issued a statement insisting that the board’s priority was ensuring that public trust in corporate governance at the broadcaster is restored.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” she said.

“We will work closely with the forthcoming external review to ensure that these issues are rigorously examined, so that full confidence in Ireland’s independent, public service broadcaster can be rebuilt.

“Separately, we have already put a number of immediate steps in place to ensure that there is no recurrence of these matters, and we will also work to complete the second Grant Thornton report as quickly as possible.

“On behalf of the board of RTE, I want to apologise again to the public for this breach of trust, and also to the staff of RTE who work so hard on a daily basis to serve the public.”

On Friday, Tubridy “apologised unreservedly” for not asking questions when RTE published incorrect figures for his earnings.

He said he would not be presenting his daily radio show next week.

On Saturday, interim deputy director general at RTE Adrian Lynch apologised to staff at the broadcaster.

“I want to apologise to you, our staff, for the serious breach of trust that has occurred, and for this failure of corporate governance at RTE,” he wrote in an email seen by the PA news agency.

He said he shared the “shock and anger” of staff.

“This has been a massive breach of trust with the public, and with all of us who have the interest of the public at the centre of our jobs every day,” he wrote.

He said an internal review of the other nine highest paid on-air presenters had found that their salaries had been correctly reported.

He acknowledged the external review of the contracts of the top 10 earners was ongoing.

Mr Lynch said new contracts would be paused pending the implementation of new oversight measures involving a greater scrutiny role for the RTE board.

He added: “We are committed to working with the chair and the RTE board to do whatever we can to rebuild trust and ensure such a serious breach of transparency never again occurs.”

Fielding reporters’ questions after announcing the external review, Ms Martin said she hoped the exercise could be concluded within six to seven months. “I suppose trust has been really shattered, it’s nearly like an existential crisis for RTE,” she said.

“To build back the trust in RTE, I think we need to have that root-and-branch review.”

Ms Martin said Ms Forbes’ suspension was part of a “disciplinary process”. She said she was not aware of any other suspensions or resignations related to the controversy.

The minister also suggested most members of the RTE executive team were not aware of the payments issue relating to Tubridy.

Ms Martin said RTE’s overall annual audit accounts that are supplied to the Government are correct.

Asked if she thought Tubridy should continue to work for RTE, the minister said that was “outside my remit under the legislation”.

“It’d be very difficult for me to express a personal view while I am minister for media,” she added.

“But that is an operational matter for RTE and indeed a matter for the individual himself.”

Ms Martin said she expected all relevant RTE staff to engage with hearings set to be convened by two parliamentary committees next week, including Ms Forbes.

She was already due to leave her post in July. She is being replaced by media executive Kevin Bakhurst.

Ms Martin said she had not engaged with him on the controversy, insisting it would not be appropriate prior to him taking over.

Asked if he was arriving to a full-in tray, she responded: “He definitely has but we will work with him in relation to this external audit.”

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