Wednesday 18 October 2017

Demand for RTE chiefs to quit over Fr Kevin Reynolds libel fiasco

Defiant chairman Tom Savage insists he won't resign

RTE board chairman Tom Savage and director general Noel
Curran at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
RTE board chairman Tom Savage and director general Noel Curran at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

THE two top men at RTE came under severe pressure to resign yesterday when they appeared before an Oireachtas committee hearing into the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel fiasco.

Chairman Tom Savage and director general Noel Curran faced a four-hour grilling from committee members on the fallout from the disastrous 'Prime Time Investigates' programme 'Mission to Prey'.

Last night, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte belatedly expressed confidence in Mr Savage following two separate statements from the Government that failed to support the chairman's position.

When speaking to the committe yesterday, Mr Savage was adamant that he would not step down saying "to walk away would be cowardly".

The RTE chairman came in for particular attack given that he is also a director of the Communications Clinic, a PR firm, which was described by Labour Senator John Whelan as a "glaring conflict of interest".

"The chairman of the authority himself has the most glaring conflict of interest with regard to his media communications company which is at the heart of the kind of programming we're talking about -- we're not talking about a company that dwells on gardening programmes or cookery classes.

"The Communications Clinic specialises in political PR, spin-doctoring on public affairs," he added.

Mr Savage steadfastly denied there was any conflict of interest, saying: "If the insinuation being made by the senator is that I have not got the highest standard of integrity, honesty and ethical approach to my work, I resent that deeply," he stressed.

At one point during the proceedings, Mr Savage expressed his understanding of the hurt caused by the infamous libel when he said: "I spent eight years in the priesthood, I am not simply a spin doctor, political hack. There is nobody in this room who would have felt more vanquished about Fr Reynolds than I did".

Mr Savage prefaced the session by stating that he believed there were "1,800 victims" in the defamation debacle, listing the RTE staff from producers to researchers, journalists and sound operators.

"I believe there are 1,800 victims who are suffering collateral damage from what has happened. They've seen their organisation's reputation tarnished grievously by what has happened."

However, Mr Whelan said he was "flabbergasted" at the chairman's responses.

"What we have here is classic spin-doctoring, we have the farcical proposition where the effective head of RTE -- its commander-in-chief, is washing his hands of any responsibility whatsoever for the systematic failures," he said.

Mr Whelan concluded by accusing the chairman of getting "his retaliation in early" and blaming the disaster on the then head of news, Ed Mulhall, by making a statement on the matter before the BAI report had been published.

Responsibility

"I don't think your position is tenable if the impartiality, integrity and independence of RTE programming is to be restored."

But Tom Savage vigorously refuted the claims.

"The board members asked specifically of Ed Mulhall who made the decisions and he told us on October 20, 'I made the final decision'," insisted the chairman. "There was no pre-emptive strike."

Fine Gael TD Tom Barry didn't pull his punches either and called for the director general Noel Curran to resign.

"You need to step aside and the board needs to consider its position. I just feel as director general you have to take responsibility and to do this the consequence of this means you should step down," he said.

Mr Savage responded by saying he believed "the last thing it (RTE) needs is the trauma particularly of removal of the director general".

Irish Independent

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