Minister Criticises 'Cavalier' Programme As Bai Fines RtÉ

Irish Examiner
May 4, 2012

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has criticised RTÉ's 'Mission to Prey' programme today, calling it a "shoddy, unprofessional, cavalier, damaging piece of work".

RTÉ was hit with a €200,000 fine over its defamatory programme which libelled a Catholic missionary priest.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) investigation into the 'Prime Time Investigates' programme found it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Fr Kevin Reynolds by wrongly accusing him of raping a minor and fathering a child while working in Kenya 30 years ago.

Speaking after the release of the BAI Statement of Findings and Report of the Investigating Officer today, Minister Rabbitte said that the broadcast of 'Mission to Prey' "really poses a fundamental challenge now to RTÉ to re-establish its reputation to rebuild that trust it has had with the Irish people."

Speaking to RTÉ's 'Six One' news programme today, he went on to say: "It is quite disturbing that a man's character could have been traduced in such a cavalier fashion."

Minister Rabbitte said that it was "beyong belief" that 'Prime Time Investigates' could produce a programme "based on, frankly, no more than uncorroberated gossip".

He later said that his confidence in the board of RTÉ was "shaken", but added that they scarcely feature at all in the report that we have before us".

RTÉ admitted the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its broadcasting history and that the material should never have been broadcast.

The State broadcaster has already pulled the award-winning production off air for good over the programme, which was aired on May 23 last year.

The inquiry into the 'Mission To Prey' programme, carried out by former BBC controller in Northern Ireland Anna Carragher, criticised standards in the state broadcaster.

It found:

* The secret filming of the cleric and a doorstep interview was an unreasonable breach of his privacy;

* There was a significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organisation which failed to anticipate, monitor or control the possibility of such a breach;

* It also failed to recognise the grave injustice which could be done to Fr Reynolds;

* Note-taking was either non-existent, or grossly inadequate notes by the editorial team;

* An almost complete absence of documentary evidence;

* A lack of scrutiny and challenge with the department;

* A failure to question colleagues, with second-hand repetition of gossip treated as corroboration;

* RTÉ did not waive its claim to privilege in the solicitor/client relationship between itself and its in-house legal staff.

Fr Reynolds, who was not interviewed as part of the BAI investigation, offered to take a paternity test to prove his innocence before the current affairs programme was aired.

He was later cleared when two tests proved he was not the child's father.

RTÉ apologised to the cleric, accepting all the allegations were baseless and without any foundation.

It also made an out-of-court settlement reported to be in the payout range of €750,000 up to €5m after he took a libel action.

Several senior figures at the State broadcaster quit or were sidelined over the production.

RTÉ's head of news, Ed Mulhall, and current affairs editor, Ken O'Shea, both stepped down temporarily while the independent inquiry into the damning errors at the flagship investigative series was carried out.

However Mr Mulhall, 56, took early retirement and Mr O'Shea moved to a new role at RTÉ Two before the end of the investigation.

Mark Lappin, producer of the programme, left the station to work for CNN in London.

Meanwhile, 'Prime Time' executive producer Brian Pairceir and reporter Aoife Kavanagh have been off air since the inquiry began.

RTÉ launched internal and external investigations into the matter, while the BAI inquiry was ordered by Minister Rabbitte. A raft of new editorial measures have also been implemented at the station.

Fr Reynolds, a popular parish priest in Ahascragh in Co Galway, will tomorrow preside over a First Holy Communion service tomorrow the same service where he was secretly filmed by an RTÉ crew last year.

In a statement his solicitor Robert Dore said they had expected the BAI report to be published next week.

"We will need time to consider its contents carefully before making any comment," he said in a statement.

"In the interim Fr Reynolds is presiding over this year's Communion mass in his parish in Ahascragh this weekend and is entirely focused on it.

"Out of respect to the privacy of the children, their families and all of his parishioners he would ask all elements of the media not to interfere with him or them in any way.

"He does not wish to be interviewed nor does he wish to make a statement.

"When we have had the opportunity to digest the report I will make further comment."

A statement from the National Union of Journalists stated: "Two NUJ members, Ms Aoife Kavanagh and Mr Ken O'Shea were represented by Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary and were advised by solicitors nominated by the union, Bowler Geraghty. We co-operated fully with the investigation.

"On behalf of Ms Kavanagh and Mr O'Shea we again express regret at the treatment of Fr Kevin Reynolds and re-iterate the apologies already offered to him.

"We also recognise the implications for RTÉ of this mistake and accept that lessons will have to be learned from what has happened.

"In our submissions to the Investigation Officer on behalf of our members we sought to explain the context in which the false allegations against Fr Reynolds were broadcast.

"We regret that the Investigating Officer did not accept many of the issues raised by the Irish Secretary, including corrections sought in the draft Executive Summary, which contained factual inaccuracies.

"The report published today is dated February 29 2012. The BAI does not appear to have taken into account in any serious way submissions made on behalf of Ms Kavanagh and Mr O'Shea, to the Chief Executive of the BAI Mr Michael O'Keeffe, and submitted by the statutory deadline of 20th April 2012.

"The full implications of the report and of the failure to address properly the legitimate concerns raised in relation to due process and fair procedure, as well as the failure to correct will be studied in the coming days.

"We are not satisfied with aspects of the investigation process and do not accept many of the conclusions reached by the Investigation Officer in respect of our members.

"We do not accept the claim made by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in the Statement of Findings published today that the rights of individuals were not prejudiced by the publication of the .un-amended Executive Summary before our members had an opportunity to correct the draft report.

"We believe that the report of the Investigation Officer is incomplete because she did not seek to interview representatives of the RTÉ Legal Department, who were central to the decision making process.

"The Board states that the findings are "directed to the broadcaster, RTÉ. They are not - and should not be understood as - a sanction imposed on or a statement of culpability of the individuals involved in the making of the programme.. The Authority has no such power and no such intention."

"This comment highlights significant procedural issues and raises fundamental issues of due process.

"The findings are clearly damaging to the professional reputation of individuals and the Investigation Officer made specific findings on matters not put directly to named individuals during the interview process.

"The NUJ therefore re-iterates our concerns expressed in submissions to the BAI and we would welcome publication of this submissions by the BAI.

"The NUJ is not in a position to publish this document, which was submitted as a response to a document covered by a confidentiality clause."


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