Coming clean on 'Frontline' a start
Published 20/11/2012 | 17:00
Kevin Bakhurst, RTE's recently appointed managing director of news and current affairs, reacted with some style yesterday to the complaints about the much-criticised 'Frontline' presidential election programme in October 2011.
He repeated the broadcaster's apology for the programme's defects, and extended it not only to Sean Gallagher, considered the front-running candidate at the time and the victim of the notorious "bogus tweet", and all the other candidates. He announced that sanctions had been imposed on some RTE employees, but without giving details or mentioning their names.
Mr Bakhurst thus did not only the handsome and sensible thing but the right thing. More executives of public organisations might do well to follow his lead. Confession beats cover-up every time.
However, he is still new to his job and may yet have a lot to learn about the organisation he works for.
Yesterday he mentioned the new editorial guidelines announced in the wake of the Mission to Prey scandal, with the presidential election still fresh in the public mind. These rested on the worthiest and soundest of journalistic principles.
In this, and in their detailed content, they closely resembled the old guidelines that they replaced.
Guidelines mean little or nothing unless they are understood and enforced.
RTE's 'Frontline' and Mission to Prey mistakes did not originate in malice.
They chiefly resulted from thoughtlessness and carelessness.
Managing directors, and others in high authority, cannot look into every crevice or foresee every emergency. But they can ensure that at a minimum their subordinates have read the guidelines and are committed to the principles expressed in them.
And they should be able to guard against little slip-ups in their own trade. In a radio interview yesterday, RTE's managing editor of news and current affairs, David Nally, was asked if he accepted that the 'Frontline' programme changed the presidential election result. He replied: "Yes, I do accept that it changed the outcome of the presidential debate, the presidential election."
Perhaps it did. More likely, it did not. Mr Nally possibly regrets that with a momentary slip he seemed to suggest that RTE has the key hand in every noteworthy event. But his hearers were unmoved.