I left an abridged version of this comment on Laura Slattery’s article in the Irish Times, headed ‘Star salaries at RTÉ were financially unsustainable and offensive to many’. I had to dump the first paragraph to meet character limits.
I’m quite surprised –though I rarely expect anything- at the degree of revulsion I have seen with regard to the latest details of the salaries of RTE’s ‘star’ presenters. Don’t get me wrong: for me, paying a TV licence to watch and listen to some of these figures is like paying for the privilege of sniffing urinals. In contrast to the gushing praise for Pat Kenny I listened to on RTE’s Late Debate last night, I find his programme unlistenable on account of his fundamentalist defence, day in, day out, of the values of conventional wisdom, right-wing economic orthodoxy and cultural mediocrity. When I listen to Marian Finucane my ears glaze over out of self-preservation. But what do people actually want from public broadcasting? Will there ever be meaningful consultations on the matter, beyond someone like Pat Rabbitte looking into his heart?I’ve heard people pointing out the incongruity and hypocrisy of certain figures chairing discussions about cuts to public sector pay when they themselves are getting paid big bucks by the public. Fine. So should we get someone on average public sector pay to chair discussions about cuts to public sector pay instead?
The point about these figures is not that they are highly-paid public sector employees at a time when the public sector is being pared back. The point is that they are highly-paid public employees who are players in an ideological war against the very idea of public and universal services, in a context where welfare states are being pared back across Europe and so much of what is public is being privatised. The danger is that this will get glossed over in order to legitimise another assault on public services in general.Consider this. Some of these figures are not employees, but contractors for companies paid by RTE. They are the principal if not the sole figure in these companies. Now, bearing that in mind, ask yourself this: is it really so surprising that there should be so much exaltation of the figure of the entrepreneur on RTE? That is, the rugged, solitary individual who cares not a fig for social institutions that give him education and health and shelter (that’s socialism, dammit) and whose success is the product of equal parts monumental graft and uncommon genius. Is it really surprising that the entrepreneur and his concerns (it’s normally a he) should figure so heavily in the programmes these figures present? And following from this, is it really so surprising that there is so little discussion, in public current affairs programming, of labour issues, matters of exploitation, rights and entitlements, at the very moment when wages and conditions of people at work are under attack, and people out of work are being subjected to ever more intrusive and arbitrary disciplinary measures and attacks on their dignity?