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An ill wind rattles RTE weather office

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Plans for a new younger "babe-watch" weather forecast by RTE has caused a cloud over the Met Eireann office, where seven of the eight presenters have been told they are going to be axed from the nation’s TV screens.

Disclosure of the plan has brewed up a storm of protest with the Met men and women appealing over the heads of RTE bosses for public support to keep them on air.

Met staff, who will lose "a significant" amount of money when their presence is rained off the screens, are reported to be winded by the sudden change in climate.

RTE’s managing director, Joe Mulholland, said Met Eireann would continue to provide the forecasts, but that the broadcasting context was changing rapidly and it was a time to look at its presentation.

He said it was not a question of "jazzing" up the forecast or using "stunners or beautiful people" but rather of providing young science graduates with the opportunity to appear on television.

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Competition from the new TV3 station was not the reason the plan. RTE had been discussing the change for more than a year, Mulholland said.

Like the weather itself, Mulholland said the broadcasting environment was undergoing rapid and constant change. He had no worries about loss of credibility or authority.

Joan Blackburn, who has been presenting the weather for more than 10 years, said she was "deeply saddened" by the plan.

She said does not see the depression that promises to sweep in at the end of the year as inevitable.

"If people feel strongly enough about it, I think they should let RTE know," she said. "I feel if you are presentable enough without being a stunner or a beauty or anything like that, and if you convey your message properly and if you are the professional in your field, you would imagine you should be able to hold onto your slot."

Pat Clarke, forecaster and IMPACT trade union representative in the Met office, said that seven of the eight presenters had been told they would lose the job, with only one being kept on as a "mentor/trainer."

He said the move was in stark contrast to the BBC, where only professional forecasters were used. The current forecasts and presentation on RTE had been planned with the aid of Bill Giles, the doyen of the BBC service.

"We should be proud of the service, but instead we are being effectively told we will take your forecast but not your people," he said.

He would not give details of how much staff would lose when the axe falls. "Everyone will lose money and it will be significant enough," he said. "We have had many calls of support. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. One farmer rang to say that if he wants babes, he will watch ‘Baywatch.’ "

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