Sunday 22 October 2017

RTE faced 'a lot of pressure' not to broadcast Anglo Tapes extracts

RTE's news chief Kevin Bakhurst talks about the Anglo Tapes, keeping up revenues and regaining the public's trust

Kevin Bakhurst
Kevin Bakhurst

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

RTE came under "external" pressure not to broadcast the Anglo Tapes published by the Sunday Independent and Irish Independent, the State broadcaster's head of news has revealed.

In a wide-ranging interview to mark the end of his first year as managing director of News and Current Affairs at the station, Kevin Bakhurst said that when the Morning Ireland programme was about to broadcast extracts from the tapes: "We faced a lot of pressure not to do it."

Mr Bakhurst did not specify where these outside pressures came from.

The Englishman said the coverage of the tapes published by the Independent group represents the direction future investigative journalism should take.

Mr Bakhurst told the Sunday Independent: "Hats off to the Independent for the Anglo tapes. [That is] the way we [RTE] should be doing things, to be honest. One of the most interesting things about the Anglo Irish Tapes is that, even after five years, the level of anger remains visceral and entirely justifiable."

However, the news chief also defended RTE's decision not to follow up on the Lowry Tapes published by the Sunday Independent, in which independent TD Michael Lowry was recorded speaking about a stg£250,000 payment that is currently being investigated by Revenue.

"We did look and see how we could take it on, but we felt there was nothing more we could add in the long term," Mr Bakhurst said, although he added there are in his view "still angles we are looking into that it triggered off''.

As controversy grows over the Government's proposed Dail inquiry into the banking collapse, Mr Bakhurst also said "the thing about the banking inquiry, I was thinking this morning, in the UK the Leveson inquiry, for all its faults, was conducted right in the middle of a maelstrom of legal cases, the fact that it was run by a judge and a legal team, they managed to do it."

One of the more political issues that will be coming RTE's way is how any extra revenue from Minister Pat Rabbitte's broadcasting charge will be spent. Mr Bakhurst warned that he is not an enthusiast for diluting this revenue.

"In Ireland, it is important we have an Irish broadcaster of sufficient clout to maintain Irish content," he said.

"Ireland is now an international marketplace. RTE is in competition with ITV, BBC, Sky in particular. It is incredibly important for Ireland we have a public broadcaster of sufficient size.''

"In the past, we competed with TV3 but there are now 40 British channels that sell bespoke Irish ads. Channel 4 will come in next year, which will mean more advertising will come out of the market."

In the wake of an ongoing series of cutbacks and caps to top-level pay, Mr Bakhurst insisted RTE has "done what we can with efficiencies".

But speaking on the relationship between print and television in the new digital market, the RTE boss struck a more conciliatory tone.

Mr Bakhurst said: "We are competing with each other, in a friendly way, I hope. We've good relations with our competitors. I've been most impressed by the journalism we have seen. Your website in the Independent is fantastic; the changes over the last nine months are a real achievement."

He also noted RTE had to be mindful that "we have a unique privilege in that we are paid by the licence fee. If there are things we can co-operate with, if we can provide some material or training in a business that is financially challenged, then obviously we will do it. Look, we are already offering, we are prepared to offer more''.

The RTE news boss also claimed that the station had recovered from the "perfect storm'' of controversies in 2012.

He admitted he had a somewhat uneasy start at the State broadcaster where "this strange Brit was coming in''. But he says he was recently told "we don't see you as the British boss any more''.

Mr Bakhurst said that a traumatic series of cutbacks were epitomised by one leaving party, where "I was told the combined experience of those going was several hundred years". But he insists that "our levels of public trust are pretty much back at what they were at".

"My view is that you have to earn that trust day in, day out. When you make sizeable mistakes, confidence takes a knock-back.''

There were even difficulties outside the gates where, for a period, a group of placard-wielding figures denounced the "godless liberals of RTE''.

Bakhurst recalls "stopping one day to ask what their beef was". He added: "There was a bit of a surprise when I did, but I didn't get any further than having it confirmed the protest was about godless RTE liberals'."

Asked if RTE was a place where, like the BBC, the liberals come out to play, Mr Bakhurst said: "In RTE, people are very professional. I have no idea what their politics are. In the BBC, you saw people being open about their politics. I always said to my wife I didn't want anyone to know what way I vote and I don't think they ever did. Even my wife doesn't know.''

But while he insists he is not overtly political, Mr Bakhurst said he had been "impressed by the courage and the intellect of the leading politicians I've spoken to, whether in moving on from the shackles of the past, of rebuilding the country or rebuilding the opposition''.

He said Finance Minister Michael Noonan "always reminds me of a version of Ken Clarke; he's got the experience, the competence the presence. I actually think experience is a virtue''.

The Englishman said he is wary about "characterising the Irish", but added: "I've seen incredible courage and fortitude from people living in a country going through incredibly difficult times.''

He said: "We see it when RTE go out to the regions, the strain on shop-keepers from week to week, but there is an incredible fortitude with the big cuts, the Troika, the loss of sovereignty. I find it very impressive actually."

But he added: "I'd be hopeful, there are signs now if you get out from the shadow of the Troika, Ireland will grow.''

Speaking of his initial status as an Englishman abroad, Mr Bakhurst said: "It has been an honour and a pleasure to immerse myself in Ireland''.

One of the features of Ireland he most admired "is their love of their cultural past, I was at Ennis just to see the Irish dancing. There's nothing in England like that except for Morris dancing, which I hate''.

Sunday Independent

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