RTE’s payments to Ryan Tubridy are indefensible. Both the amount and the secrecy of the arrangement are scandalous.
Marxists in the trade unions defend the pay and conditions of members. That includes those who are seen as very well paid. We defend the payment of premiums for levels of training, skill, experience, responsibility etc.
Those payments were an issue in some of the public sector strikes in the North in recent months. Militant Left comrades in the NIPSA trade union played a very important role in several of these disputes. Not supporting those disputes would have meant being a scab, and lining up on the employers’ side.
However, we can only defend the defensible. The payments to Tubridy cannot be defended.
Additionally, Marxists are sensitive to the conditions working-class people face. We defend public sector broadcasting, as represented by RTE. We importantly defend the over 1,800 jobs in RTE. We also recognise that the current licence fee of €160 (£137.50) is a burden for many on social welfare or low pay. Last year, 9,610 people were brought to court in the South for non-payment of the licence. They were overwhelmingly from the poorest sections of the working class. There is a need to seek a way of financing public-service broadcasting that is not a non-means tested levy on the working class.
In the current situation, the payments to Tubridy provide an arsenal of ammunition that will be used in the concerted attack on public service broadcasting. That is part of a populist right-wing agenda internationally. In Ireland, there are also political forces wishing to further hobble RTE news coverage.
Right-wing populists can play on the frustrations of the lower-paid. Such forces, of course, have no record of supporting the lower-paid.
As Marxists, we recognise the importance of public-sector broadcasting. That goes way beyond news. Public-sector broadcasting means all sorts of programmes which do not seem potentially profitable. It means investment in and development of talent at all levels.
We defend RTE as publicly owned. However, management has completely escaped recognising it has any responsibility to the public. Thus there needs to be a debate as to how RTE can be democratically run. Democratic control must involve RTE staff, the wider trade union movement, and wider society.
That is because the RTE management which made secret payments to Tubridy has an appalling history in treatment of RTE workers. Two years ago workers rejected proposed pay cuts of between 3.5% and 5.35%. Those cuts would be accompanied by cuts in allowances. An earlier review found that over 100 RTE workers were on bogus self-employed contracts. RTE management present themselves as preachers of enlightenment. But last year the gender pay gap was 11.5%. That was despite the Director General since 2016 being Dee Forbes, a woman.
Thus these revelations are an insult to RTE workers. A meeting of National Union of Journalists (NUJ) members in response was the largest in many years, possibly ever. NUJ Dublin Broadcasting Branch chair Emma O’Kelly expressed the anger of her colleagues:
‘’Our members have worked extremely hard to earn and maintain the trust of the Irish public. That trust is something we value and respect hugely.
“They are devastated to see the hard-earned goodwill of the public undermined as a result of this scandal. We will continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability, and that includes holding RTÉ to the same standards that the public expects of any publicly funded body. We demand that our viewers and listeners are treated with respect, and we want that respect extended also to staff at RTÉ.’’