Saturday 21 October 2017

RTE News anchor Bryan Dobson warns of taking risks to chase ratings in TV

Pictured ahead of his Inaugural Lecture as Adjunct Professor of Public Service Broadcast Journalism at UL is Professor Bryan Dobson
Pictured ahead of his Inaugural Lecture as Adjunct Professor of Public Service Broadcast Journalism at UL is Professor Bryan Dobson

Kathryn Hayes

The current appetite for "edgy and ground-breaking journalism" led RTE to "devour good editorial practice" when it screened the controversial Prime Time documentary about Fr Kevin Reynolds, one of its main news anchors has said.

Brian Dobson has described it as a fundamental failure by the national broadcaster.

Speaking at his inaugural lecture as Adjunct Professor of Public Service Broadcasting at the University of Limerick, RTE's Six One news anchor warned of the hazards that come with the ambition to produce programmes that make a real impact.

This is particularly the case in current affairs programmes, which he believes are exposed to more risks and under greater pressure to maintain audiences.

"When those two ingredients - risk and ratings - are mixed together, there is a potentially explosive compound.

"Certainly that's what lies behind the single biggest crisis in RTE News and Current Affairs in my 25 years - Father Reynolds libel case involving Prime Time," he said.

"Much has been written and said about the programme, about RTE's handling of the legal case and the many lessons to be learned.

"But it seemed to me that RTE's fundamental failure was to allow this appetite for edgy, ground-breaking journalism to devour good journalistic practice. It was failure above all of editorial control," he added.

According to Mr Dobson all RTE staff suffered reputational damage as a result of the Prime Time documentary, however, a number of things have happened at the organisation,= which have helped restore public confidence in RTE journalism.

"New, more rigorous procedures were put in place with clear lines of editorial control and responsibility.

"RTE current affairs 'got back up on the investigative horse'," he added.

Crucially, he added, investigative programmes are now broadcast when they are ready to be broadcast and when they have cleared the editorial process.

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