Director General of RTÉ Dee Forbes has told the Public Accounts Committee that the company has inadequate resources, and faces urgent and substantial financial challenges. 

She told TDs and Senators that it is not possible for RTÉ to stabilise its financial position without addressing the issue of its resources and the TV licence system. 

She said the cost of RTÉ's public service activities is substantially in excess of the amount of public funding it receives in the form of licence fee revenue and she put it to TDs and Senators that there was now an obligation on policy makers and Government to modernise the TV licence system.

Ms Forbes said the current licence fee system was fundamentally unfit for purpose and unreflective of how people consume and interact with public service media and content today. 

"The State is failing to collect what it believes is an appropriate fee for having a TV licence and the service that that funding underpins".

"In what other area of public finances is that acceptable? The answer is none" she said.

"RTÉ is not asking for additional money from households, we are simply asking that the money the state itself believes is appropriate as a TV licence fee be collected".

Ms Forbes said that since 2008 RTÉ's overall annual funding has fallen by in excess of €100m and this is why the broadcaster was not now investing enough in TV drama, children's programming, arts and culture output and Irish language TV programming.

She said a fall in financial resources was also why RTÉ does not have enough international/foreign correspondents, and why the organisation was struggling to maintain, let alone grow, its investment in investigative reporting and programming.

The Director General said RTÉ has substantially reduced its costs, by €96m between 2008 and 2016, or some 22% through a whole series of measures including pay cuts and a large reduction in its workforce.

She told the Committee that RTÉ "has issues within the organisation" in relation to self-employment contracts.

Ms Forbes was responding to Sinn Féin's David Cullinane who asked her whether the practice of "bogus self-employment contracts was rife within RTÉ".

Ms Forbes said there were 472 individual contactors in RTÉ who provide particular services.

She said she had committed to investigating the situation around contractors in the organisation because it was pointed out that they may have some concerns. 

"That review is currently under way" she said.

Mr Cullinane said some of the people who refer to themselves as contractors "don't see themselves as contractors, don't want to be contractors"

"They're telling me that they lose rights in terms of sick pay, holiday pay, trade union recognition" 

"There's a whole range of employment rights and benefits that they lose and many of them did feel coerced into accepting these contracts" he said.

Two audio clips from RTÉ's Drivetime were played in which reporter Philip Boucher-Hayes outlined concerns about self-employment contracts in RTÉ.

Ms Forbes said the view expressed that the practice of bogus self-employment contracts was rife in RTÉ was "a view".

She said she needed to understand whether that view was correct or not.

"That is why I committed to undertaking a thorough root and branch review of the situation in relation to our contractors" 

"That is currently what is under way" she said.

Asked about fees paid to companies that had been established by people who provide services to RTÉ, the organisation's Chief Financial Officer Breda O'Keeffe said there were 472 contractors in RTÉ of which 81 were incorporated companies.

She said the average fee paid to these companies in 2017 was €66,700.

Director General defends top earners' pay at RTÉ

Ms Forbes defended the broadcaster's top ten earners' pay and outlined that the cost of "talent" amounts to 1% of its total cost base.

Her comments came in response to criticism from members of the Committee.

Social Democrats' TD Catherine Murphy said: "We have got a list of your top ten earners ... It does give the impression that RTÉ has shed-loads of money. Whether you like that or not, that is the impression it gives and it is then very difficult to argue that RTÉ is short of money".

Ms Forbes replied: "The cost of that talent to us as an organisation is 1% of our total cost base. So there is 99% going to other things".

She added: "We get half of our funding from the licence fee and half from commercial revenue. Now it is incumbent on these presenters and broadcasters and they are the best in the country. It is incumbent on them to ensure that RTÉ gets strong audiences from a relevance point of view but also to be attractive to advertisers".

She said: "There is an onus on those people not just to provide a public service part of their role but also to make us attractive from a commercial point of view".

She later said: "There is a competitive market place out there for broadcasters. These broadcasters can command big audiences and there is a market out there for that".

She said that her predecessor Noel Curran did reduce top earners' salaries and, when contracts come up for review, they will be assessed on the market conditions at the time.

RTÉ's Director of Content Jim Jennings pointed out that there is competition from other media organisations and that, of the top ten broadcasters in Ireland, five work in RTÉ and five work in the independent sector.

He also pointed out that RTÉ's top talent cannot complete their work without the production teams that work with them.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she does not think top presenters deserve the salaries are on. She added that "most of them are men and it is something that you should look at".

Ms Forbes said that the first part of a review of RTÉ is due to be completed by the end of the month.

Asked about the cost of producing Irish programming, Mr Jennings said the organisation was not fulfilling its remit when it comes to Irish language programming.

"I have said I want Irish language programme resumed to the level it was at before the cuts", he said.

"There are lots of gaps in our Irish language programming".

Under questioning from Committee Chairman Seán Fleming, Mr Jennings said there is a significant difference between the cost of an hour of home-produced drama versus programming acquired from overseas.

"You could acquire Homeland (a US drama) for about €5,000 an hour, but it could cost €1m to produce an hour of Irish drama".

He said the RTÉ series Rebellion cost around €1m per hour of programming to make.

Mr Jennings said it costs €130,000 per hour to produce an hour of Irish soap drama, while an Australian soap could be purchased for €2,000.

Mr Fleming said he did not think enough people were aware of this differential.

"I'm taken aback at the level of differential out there - ye need to get out there.

"You can say, we can run away on this bought in stuff, but if you want Irish drama it's going to cost money" he said.

The committee was also told that RTÉ will have to pay a tax bill in excess of €20m following the sale of land at its base in Donnybrook.

Chief Financial Officer Breda O'Keefe said the land was sold for €107.5m.

Answering questions from Committee chair Seán Fleming, she added: "There will be a significant tax bill of 25% to be paid on the sale of the land".

The broadcaster must pay corporation tax on the sale of the lands to Cairn Homes.

Ms O'Keefe said: "The ultimate tax bill will be in excess of €20m on the land sale".

Additional reporting Conor McMorrow