RTE suspends search for Fair City photographer amid funding crisis

RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst has confirmed that the tender would be reviewed (Niall Carson/PA)
RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst has confirmed that the tender would be reviewed (Niall Carson/PA)

RTE has suspended a controversial 240,000 euro (£207,000) tender process for photographers to take pictures on the set of soap Fair City.

Director general Kevin Bakhurst said the process would be paused following his decision to halt discretionary spending at the national broadcaster as it grapples with a funding crisis.

The move to advertise for photography, which would have paid a maximum of 60,000 euro a year over four years, prompted questions from politicians, given it was happening at the same time RTE was asking the government for a multi-million euro support package of interim funding to help it weather its current financial travails.

RTE pay revelations
RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst made the decision to halt discretionary spending (Brian Lawless/PA)

RTE’s long-running funding problems have been exacerbated in recent months by a sharp drop-off in licence fee revenue amid a negative public reaction to a summer of controversies at the broadcaster.

RTE had initially defended the photography tender process in the face of criticism. However, on Sunday Mr Bakhurst announced that it would now be paused.

He said RTE would take time to review the volume of photography required and length of contract, among other considerations, and a revised tender document will be issued once those decisions have been made.

“Given the steep fall in the licence fee and the uncertainty over interim funding, and following last week’s announcements, we have decided to halt the current tender process for Fair City photography,” he said.

“While quality professional photography is essential to enable us to promote our programmes and engage audiences, it is not possible for RTE to commit to a four-year contract or to this level of spend given the challenges we now face.

“So, we have decided to take time to consider the best way to balance the needs of the series with the need to reduce costs where we can. We will continue to explore how we can cut costs and maximise funding of our public services through commercial revenue, while also working hard to restore trust in RTE.“

Fair City is Ireland’s most popular soap. In the first eight months of 2023, it has generated more than four million streams on the RTE Player – which is up 40% year on year.

Last week, Mr Bakhurst introduced an immediate recruitment freeze and a temporary halt to discretionary spending.

Outlining other potential measures, the director general told a parliamentary committee in Dublin that there would be a move to drive down the salaries of the top-earning presenters and he said the sale of RTE’s prized Montrose site in south Dublin was also under consideration.

RTE pay revelations
The crisis at RTE began after it was revealed it had not correctly declared fees paid to presenter Ryan Tubridy (Niall Carson/PA)

The crisis at RTE erupted in June when the broadcaster revealed it had not correctly declared fees to its then-highest-paid earner Ryan Tubridy between 2017 and 2022.

The furore subsequently widened as a series of other financial and governance issues emerged.

Prior to its difficulties over the summer months, RTE had asked the Irish government for 34.5 million euro in additional interim funding for next year.

Since then, its revenues had taken a further major hit with the broadcaster currently projecting a loss of 21 million euro by year end due to a fall in TV licence payments in the wake of the controversies.

That 21 million euro in revenue gap was on top of a deficit of seven million euro RTE had already budgeted for in 2023.

The Irish government has yet to decide how much extra funding it will release to the embattled organisation, but has made clear that any investment will have to be reciprocated with a significant programme of internal reform.