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  • Writer's pictureSinéad Egan

When A Payments Scandal Is The Tip Of The Culture Iceberg

Our national broadcaster, RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), is deeply embedded in the nation's cultural fabric. Over the years, RTÉ has played a significant role in shaping public opinion, reflecting Irish society, and promoting artistic and creative endeavours. However, recent events in RTÉ had us glued to the TV (watching hours of broadcasts from the Oireachtas - the upper house of the Irish parliament) for all the wrong reasons that were initially centred around a payments scandal.

Recent Payments Scandal Involving Ryan Tubridy

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The recent payments scandal involving Ryan Tubridy surfaced when reports emerged about his salary and additional payments he received at a time when the majority of RTE’s staff were taking forced pay cuts. The controversy sparked debates about the ethics of public broadcasting, funding sources, transparency and governance within RTÉ. Questions arose about whether such a significant financial package was justified, especially considering RTÉ's reliance on public funds through the television license fee. And maybe more importantly, it raised questions about the seemingly backhanded and clandestine way in which those payments were made.

Going Beyond Scandal: Unmasking RTÉ's Deeper Cultural Issues

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However, what was most interesting about this whole debacle was that this was so much more than a simple payments scandal. This issue lifted the lid on much bigger issues at RTE, the majority of which were embedded in the culture of the organisation, with much of it, it would appear, driven by the now-departed former Director General.

You could write a book on this (and no doubt someone will!), but what were some of the big things we learned about the organisational culture in RTÉ in the past couple of months?

1. The culture lacks transparency:

The Tubridy payments scandal shed light on the lack of transparency in RTÉ concerning its employees' salaries and other financial arrangements. This secrecy raised concerns about fair remuneration and highlighted the need for more accountability in how public funds are allocated.

There’s no doubt that this has also had a negative impact on trust not just with employees but with people across Ireland who are now wondering, ‘If they’ve kept this secret, what else might be going on?’.

The controversy also highlighted pay disparities within RTÉ. Talented and hardworking employees at all levels of the company - who have in some cases struggled to secure improved salary and working conditions - will surely now be feeling (rightly!) resentful and demotivated after the information about additional payments to Tubridy has come to light. The lack of transparency certainly acts against creating an inclusive culture where all employees feel valued and appreciated.

2. Checks and balances were weak or absent, which enabled a lack of accountability:

The situation exposed weaknesses in RTÉ's former leadership team and their decision-making processes. It has been obvious that there was inadequate oversight and accountability within the leadership team (who each had a responsibility as directors to act in good faith, to act honestly and responsibly) in turn raising questions about the broadcaster's commitment to upholding its ethical standards. Good governance supports good behaviours and a positive culture and the governance in RTÉ was severely lacking in that regard.

3. It is not a values-led organisation:

‘As an organisation and individually, RTÉ will be outward looking, creative, respectful, sustainable and accountable, collaborative and transparent.’

Pop along to RTE’s website, and that’s what you’ll find listed as its core values. So, not only did it have the public service values to live up to – independence, integrity, impartiality, equality, fairness and respect – it set its bar far higher. Unfortunately, it was a great example of ‘words on a wall’ - of those at the highest levels of the organisation largely ignoring the behavioural expectations they set for everyone in the organisation.

Navigating the Path Forward: RTÉ's Steps Toward Cultural Renewal

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As Ireland's national broadcaster, RTÉ plays a crucial role in reporting news impartially and objectively, and everyone working there should be living those values. Such a large payment to a presenter, alongside the lack of transparency and accountability, raises questions about the broadcaster's values and may even threaten perceptions of journalistic integrity. To uphold its reputation as a trustworthy news source, RTE must strengthen its commitment to and ensure these values are embedded at all levels of the organisation.

So, what’s next?

In June, the Government announced there will be an external independent review of the governance and culture at RTÉ. Furthermore, a Government decision on reform of the TV licence system has been paused pending the completion of this review. This review will be a key step in re-building trust and confidence both internally in the organisation and with their stakeholders and a first step for RTÉ on their journey of culture change.


Want to improve your culture?

If you are interested in understanding and improving your organisational culture, get in touch with us at Inspiring Change. We work with clients like Vhi, the Football Association of Ireland, the Department of Transport and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to do just that.


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