Defamation of priest left RTE badly damaged, Bird tells students
Published 07/02/2012 | 05:00
CHARLIE Bird has said RTE has been enormously damaged by the 'Prime Time Investigates' documentary which defamed a Galway priest.
Addressing journalism students at the University of Limerick, the long-serving RTE reporter said the documentary had been a huge jolt for everybody working at the state broadcaster.
Last year, in a programme entitled 'Mission to Prey', RTE falsely stated that Fr Kevin Reynolds had raped a Kenyan woman and fathered a child by her while working as a missionary.
Subsequently, the state broadcaster agreed to settle a High Court action taken by Fr Reynolds.
"Of course, it damaged RTE enormously. I'm quoting the director general (and) he said it was the worst libel, the worst mistake RTE has ever been involved in. You can't get any more horrendous than that," Mr Bird said.
"It's had a huge knock-on effect and it's had a huge jolt to RTE itself."
He continued: "When we get something wrong, we have to put up our hands and we have to make sure that it doesn't happen again -- whatever it is. RTE has to be big enough to make sure that it doesn't happen again," he added.
"When you libel somebody in any walk of life . . . that's not something you take lightly."
Mr Bird told the UL students that it was extremely important to recheck facts.
"You can see the pain caused for RTE by 'Mission to Prey'. Even the title was stupid.
"The people who were working on that programme are absolutely fantastic journalists, but sometimes, something goes wrong and you have to do something.
"The best thing to do is put your hand up and say 'I got it wrong' rather that allow it to continue or fester."
He said 'Prime Time Investigates' had done fantastic work prior to the Fr Reynolds saga and added that he hoped to see his colleagues -- who stepped aside from their roles last November -- return to work in RTE soon.
"I hope that the people involved, that when all the processes are over, they are back in the field.
"I'm not in 'Prime Time'. I'm waiting like everyone else in RTE to see what happens, We will have to see how it (the station) deals with it," he said.
Mr Bird, who began working for RTE in 1974, admitted he failed his state exams in secondary school.
"I never went to university. I failed my Leaving (Cert), I failed my Inter (Cert) so I was lucky to get into journalism."
He said he regarded journalism as an exact science.
"Telling the truth or getting to the truth is an exact science and is important. You have to be able to say to yourself when you go home at night, 'at least I have done the right thing'," Mr Bird said.