The new director general of RTÉ has pledged to change and reform the broadcaster after what he called “one of the most shameful” moments in its history.
Kevin Bakhurst will tell the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts, on his fourth day on the job, that it was “completely unacceptable” that the public and politicians were misled.
A number of probes have been launched into Ireland’s public service broadcaster, prompted after it said it had underdeclared its star presenter Ryan Tubridy’s earnings by €345,000 (£295,000) from the years 2017 to 2022.
This includes an interim Grant Thornton report ordered by RTÉ to examine the fees paid to its top 10 presenters for each year back to 2010.
Its auditors since have “validated” the published figures, except in the case of Tubridy for the period subject to controversy – but found that there were “no errors” in the published figures for Mr Tubridy from 2008 to 2016.
Auditors at Grant Thornton are still investigating whether Mr Tubridy’s earnings were underdeclared by €120,000 from 2017 to 2019; but in an extraordinary back-to-back committee appearance on Tuesday, Mr Tubridy said that this misreporting was due to how RTÉ had logged a loyalty fee he had waived.
The report states that investigations are ongoing for the years 2008 and 2009 in respect of the top 10 earners, as documentation has been difficult to source; as well as exit fees and performance fees accrued by RTÉ.
The crisis at the broadcaster has widened out from underdeclared pay to Mr Tubridy to RTÉ’s internal financial, accounting and governance practices and its expenditure on corporate hospitality for advertising clients.
The Government has launched two external reviews into RTÉ, has announced a forensic accountant Mazars to look into RTÉ’s accounts, and has paused discussions on a new long-term funding arrangement for the broadcaster.
At a protest held outside RTÉ offices on Wednesday, staff expressed concern that the fallout from the controversy could lead to a drop in commercial revenues from advertising and fewer people paying the obligatory TV licence fee.
Mr Bakhurst, who stood down RTÉ’s executive leadership board on Monday as he vowed to restore people’s trust in Ireland’s public service broadcaster, is to tell TDs on Thursday that the controversy is “one of the most shameful and damaging episodes in the organisation’s history”.
He will also commit to publishing the pay of the executives on his permanent “leadership team” annually, along with the top 10 presenters’ pay in RTÉ’s annual report.
Mr Bakhurst will also state that RTÉ should not be “brokering or facilitating” commercial arrangements with its contractors, and that the level of fees in these contracts “are too high”.
“I am absolutely determined to implement the change and reform which will help us draw a line under this shameful period in RTÉ’s history and to rebuild trust in public service broadcasting,” he is to tell TDs.
Chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh is to state that Mr Bakhurst “is steadying the ship of RTÉ by taking swift action on a range of important matters” – including setting up a register of interests for staff and contractors.
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