independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

War of words breaks out between John Waters and RTE

* Solicitor acting for Waters says they were looking for apology and retraction only
* But RTE have hit back saying Waters' proposed apology was 'unacceptable' to them
* National broadcaster say due consideration was given to situation 'in tandem with legal advice'

RTE has hit back at claims made by a solicitor acting for John Waters as the row over 'Pantigate' intensifies.

An all-out row between the legal representative acting for Mr Waters and national broadcaster has developed with both sides issuing statements.

Kevin Brophy, the solicitor who acted for Mr Waters in his legal complaint against RTE, says that his client and Iona Institute clients only wanted “an apology, a retraction and nothing else”.

RTE’s claim that they tried to explore all avenues including an offer of a charitable donation before opting to pay financial compensation to journalist John Waters in the ‘Pantigate’ controversy has been slammed as “grossly misleading” by the solicitor in the statement he issued this morning.

However, RTE has strongly hit back against the claims.

A statement from the broadcaster said they stood by the comments made by RTE boss Glenn Killane on the issue and said the wording of an apology by John Waters was "unacceptable" to the organisation.

"The apology proposed by Mr Waters was unacceptable to RTÉ," the statement read.

"Due consideration was given to the full range of RTÉ’s responsibilities as a public service broadcaster, in tandem with careful consideration of the legal advice.

"RTÉ stands by its previous statement," it added.

Separately, a source told independent.ie: "The apology was to include the name of Rory O'Neill, aka Panti Bliss, and that the station was to concede that the comments made on The Saturday Night Show were 'without foundation', which RTE was unwilling to do."

The national broadcaster paid €85,000 in financial compensation to Mr Waters and members of the Iona Institute following comments made by Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, on RTE’s Saturday Night Show in which he alleged they were “homophobic”.

Kevin Brophy, who acted for the Irish Times columnist, says after the initial interview with Rory O’Neill on Brendan O’Connor’s programme, RTE spent “two days conducting an internet trawl in a fruitless attempt to belatedly substantiate” the homophobic claims.

After this occurred, Mr Brophy said his client proposed the precise wording of an apology before suggesting a €15,000 donation to St Vincent de Paul to mark the seriousness of the defamatory comments.

It is not clear from the statement whether the proposed charitable sum of €15,000 would have affected the €40,000 paid to John Waters, or the collective sum of €85,000 paid to Mr Waters and members of the Iona Institute. Independent.ie was unable to clarify this at the time of publishing.

In relation to the proposed apology drafted by Mr Waters for RTE, Mr Brophy said RTE did not accept the wording.

The solicitor claimed if RTE were willing to accept this, it would have cost the organisation a “fraction of the cost” incurred. 

In a strongly worded statement issued earlier today, Mr Brophy disputed the version of events leading up to the pay-out as outlined by RTE boss Glen Killane.

Earlier this week, Mr Killane, who is the Managing Director of RTE Television, told staff in a statement: “I want to reassure you that RTE explored every option available to it, including right of reply. Legal advice was sought and all avenues were explored, including an offer to make a donation to a neutral charity”.

The statement went on to say that they took a particular course of action partly because of “the decision by the complainants not to accept RTE’s proposed remedies”.

But this has been disputed by Mr Brophy.

“This is a grossly misleading version of what actually happened,” Mr Brophy said.

In great detail, Mr Brophy outlined his version of events in his role as solicitor for John Waters.

“I was instructed by John Waters on January 11th to write to RTE seeking an apology and a retraction and the removal of certain defamatory comments from the internet broadcast of the Saturday Night Show. 

“My instructions were very clear at that time.  John Waters and the Iona Institute clients wanted an apology and a retraction and nothing else.

“RTE proposed a right of reply which was like asking my clients to prove they are not homophobic. 

“John Waters also made several attempts to deal with the matter himself, including having a lengthy telephone conversation with the producer of the Saturday Night Show.

“ In the course of this conversation, he discovered that far from showing a willingness to vindicate his reputation, RTE had spent the previous two days conducting an internet trawl in a fruitless attempt to belatedly substantiate the allegation made by Mr O'Neill.  They failed in these endeavours.

“John Waters then proposed the precise wording of an apology and further proposed that a donation of €15,000 be made to the St. Vincent De Paul to mark the seriousness of the defamatory comments. This proposal did not come from RTE, it came from John Waters. RTE were not happy to broadcast the apology we had drafted and instead said they intended to go ahead with a totally unsatisfactory two sentence statement. Over the course of the following seven days, an unsatisfactory wording was eventually agreed and was broadcast.

“RTE’s response to the proposed donation to the St. Vincent De Paul was that they felt the figure should be €5,000.   My very strong advice was for John Waters to issue proceedings against RTE as I did not believe they were taking the matter seriously.

“It should also be noted that these negotiations were ongoing at a time when John Waters was being subjected to the most outrageous level of online abuse and adverse commentary.

“Eventually RTE offered €40,000 and this was accepted. I did not recommend the figure as I felt it was too low. The bottom line here is that if RTE had accepted John Water’s original proposal, this case would have settled at a fraction of the final cost to RTE.

“I have acted for John Waters for many years. In previous defamation actions he has requested that settlements be passed to charity. John Waters agreed to this final settlement and apology in the hope of putting an end to the matter and in deference to the members of the Iona Institute, who had also been defamed. This is not a case of John Waters trying to silence the gay lobby or prevent freedom of speech. He was defamed. He continues to be defamed. If RTE had acted appropriately and sensibly on day one, this current storm would never have arisen.”

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