RTE announced today they will stand by their decision to send Charlie Bird on a slow boat to China, and have publicly defended the move after coming under fire from licence fee payers complaining about the €300 expenditure.
But the broadcaster, which has cut costs in the face of a funding deficit, stressed it kept expenses to an absolute minimum and said under the circumstances it was a small sacrifice to make.
The extraordinary move to send Mr. Bird on a 30-foot-boat to China comes as station chiefs grapple with the decision of how to keep the 62-year-old journalist and broadcaster off the air for as long as possible.
An RTE spokesman last night said that “no camera crew, cameras or mobile phone” have been allowed onto the boat.
Neither, said the RTE spokesman, had any decision been made on a return journey back to Ireland.
“We think its the best thing for the station, and indeed the viewing public. Most of the people making these decisions would have been very close to Charlie. Obviously, they are very upset they won’t see him again for a long long time.
“It really is too early to say what will happen and I’m sure it will be some time before a decision is taken to bring him home. We at the station believe the €300 expense is acceptable considering the outcome.” an RTE spokesman told Waterford Whispers News.
However, station chiefs will have to make sure Charlie doesn’t come in contact with a video mobile device on his journey.
“The last thing we want is him popping up on the Six-One news saying he’s ‘ok, but very lonely'”. said one station chief.
Charlie Bird was put onto a second-hand row boat called the ‘Mé Fein’ yesterday evening and was given a brief run through of the navigation equipment and oars.
Long time friend and colleague Brian Dobson said “Once we were all happy that Charlie knew which direction to go, we then untied the vessel and sent him off on his way.
“I think the last thing he said to me was ‘Wheres the camera crew?’
“All I could do was just nod my head from side to side and wave goodbye. It was very emotional.”
The source at the station dismissed reports that there was no plans to have Charlie return to Ireland.
“Ah jaysis no! We couldn’t do that to him. Charlie has been with us for over 30 years. He is 62 now, so retirement is on the cards. We’ll bring him back then.” he said.