It’s a little more than a week now and still, RTÉ cannot fully explain its ‘over-payment’ to top earner, Ryan Tubridy.
Incredibly, at this remove there are a lot more questions than answers on the issue with Tuesday evening’s RTE statement seeming to throw former Director General Dee Forbes under a bus by claiming she was the only person who would have known there was a discrepancy between what the ex-Late, Late Show presenter was said to earn and what he was actually getting paid or over-paid.
Is over-payment even the correct term as the additional payments paid to the popular presenter were clearly kept under the radar – covert earnings initially described as sponsorship or a ‘barter’ deal as the full measure of the scandal unfolded last week.
The tidal wave began with the announcement last week that the station’s top presenter would not be hosting his regular RTÉ 1 morning radio show until the full details of his €345,000 ‘over-payment’ were realised.
The 50-year-old radio and tv host was initially unapologetic and made a statement claiming this was an issue for the national public broadcaster, who would have to explain why it did not declare the payments in its annual audit presented to government via the Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin.
Tubridy’s response did not meet with public approval – his following includes many financially pressed, hard working Irish families struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. From hero to zero, his popularity plummeted as an incredulous nation questioned how an organisation as vast as RTÉ could overlook such a vast sum. He issued a second statement the following day, this time apologising profusely for what had happened.
On Friday last, RTÉ confirmed its Director General, Dee Forbes was suspended pending Oireachtas Committee investigations. She had in fact, been suspended on Wednesday 21 but this information was not released for two days. Again, the drip-feeding of information and the secrecy around said payments were slated by fellow RTÉ workers and politicians alike.
A media frenzy engulfed the country, with RTÉ staff furious at the revelations – when some producers spoke or having to haggle for decent pay for correspondents or even having water or refreshments for guests during live broadcasts.
Key political players were united – confidence and trust in RTÉ had taken a serious battering and ~~Media Minister Catherine Martin warned she wanted answers – only the truth as to who knew what and when could full restore faith in our national broadcaster. She also called for the suspended Director General Dee Forbes to appear before two investigating Oireachtas Committees later this week.
Ms Forbes issued a statement she had resigned and owing to health reasons, she would not appear before the Oireachtas hearings. And the soap continued on Tuesday last when Minister Martin briefed her Cabinet colleagues on the external review she was commissioning on governance and culture in RTÉ.
She stated RTÉ revelations and responses over the previous week were “unacceptable and damaging to both RTÉ and to public service broadcasting in general.”
She continued: “Trust and confidence have been broken and it is essential that RTÉ puts the full facts on the public record as a matter of urgency.”
Stating she advised the RTÉ Chair to explain who signed off on the payments, who else was involved or aware of these transactions, and when would the further Grant Thornton report commissioned by RTÉ be completed (especially the lack of clarification re payment to RTÉ’s top paid presenter of €120,000 between 2017 and 2019).
The drip-feeding and lack of clear information needed to go on record, as soon as possible. And the drama continued with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin leading the posse screaming for clarity and transparency.
“RTÉ must not now squander this opportunity to share everything that they know on this matter, in advance of the Oireachtas hearings later this week,” warned Minister Martin.
This week saw the broadcaster’s top earners came forward to affirm their declared earnings were correct and there were no additional ‘over-payments’ or barter deals – among them Claire Byrne, Joe Duffy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Ray Darcy, Brendan O’ Connor, Mary Wilson, and others.
On Tuesday evening, RTÉ’s statement finally came and Dee Forbes was left standing before the guillotine.
Interim Deputy Director General Adrian Lynch stated no other member of the RTÉ Executive Board other than the former DG Ms Forbes could have known the true figures published for Ryan Tubridy were wrong (€345, 000 wrong). Even the Commercial Director’s knowledge of the transactions, stated Mr Lynch was “limited to the instructions received by her from the DG in connection with the payments in question”.
While the RTÉ Executive Board could confirm the payments made to Mr Tubridy from 2020-2022 – when the country was in the throes of the pandemic and most families taking reduced income – the Board could not address payments made to the presenter from 2017-2019!
As yet, said Mr Lynch, Ms Forbes had not responded to the Board’s request for clarity on this, and owing to ill health, she would not be appearing before the Oireachtas Committee this week.
There has been no suggestion of wrong doing by Mr Tubridy, albeit a nation is furious and wounded even, that one hailed in such high esteem never once corrected the statements saying he had taken a cut in earnings during the pandemic years. He had taken a cut in salary but this was handsomely overridden by ‘barter’ payments. And when the sponsor pulled out of the sponsorship deal, Ms Forbes continued the payments from RTÉ but as yet, it is unclear if any of the broadcaster’s senior executives were aware of the deal.
In recent weeks, Mr Tubridy was still being lauded for his work with the Late Late for years, and he was the chosen celebrity to pay tribute to the late Christy Dignam of Aslan via a video broadcast before the singer’s funeral service.
AT lunchtime on Tuesday, hundreds of his colleagues in RTÉ protested outside broadcast stations across the country, supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and SIPTU. Placards read “Truth Matters” as RTÉ staff called for truth and chanted “When do we want it….We want it NOW!”
Researchers, presenters, producers, directors, new readers – shocked at the gross amount of money when so many were taking salary cuts and struggling to cope with the soaring cost of living.
Correspondent Orla O’Donnell noted that during the Covid years, RTÉ had built up a great trust with a suppressed audience. “Now, that’s been completely turned.”
More than a week later and RTÉ – with a €300m turnover and over 1,800 employees – still has not uncovered the full details of this covert two-tier payment scheme.