Monday 23 April 2018

New lease of life for George Lee as Richard Crowley quits Prime Time

George Lee.
George Lee.

Laura Butler and Ken Sweeney

NEW RTE head of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst has stamped his mark on the station in a major shake-up.

Veteran presenter Richard Crowley will be replaced on flagship current affairs programme 'Prime Time' by Claire Byrne and George Lee as the fallout from the 'Mission To Prey' scandal continues.

Byrne and former Fine Gael TD Lee will officially join 'Prime Time' in January as part of a format "overhaul".

Crowley's partner, former reporter Aoife Kavanagh, resigned from RTE after being found to have played a critical role in the 'Prime Time Investigates' episode that libelled a priest.

Fr Kevin Reynolds is understood to have received €1m in damages after he was falsely accused of rape and fathering a child with a Kenyan woman.

Mr Bakhurst told the Irish Independent he had tried to persuade Mr Crowley to stay.

"I was keen he stayed with 'Prime Time' but he feels he wants to move on and do other things. We are still talking to him about what he wants to do but he made it clear," Mr Bakhurst said.

The reshuffle means Lee will return to a prominent slot on live television for the first time in three years.

Since his ill-fated stint as a Fine Gael TD that lasted just nine months, he has kept a relatively low profile while re-establishing himself in RTE.

"I thought it was about time we brought George back to a central role," said Mr Bakhurst.

"He had a period after he was in politics (when he was off current affairs in RTE) while the dust settled. I think it's great for us to have someone of his calibre. He is a very professional journalist with a massive talent who can explain economic and business stories to a wide audience."

Mr Bakhurst, the former controller of the BBC News channel, began working with RTE in the summer after the departure of Ed Mulhall, who retired in the aftermath of the Fr Reynolds defamation.

Speaking to staff yesterday, Bakhurst outlined his vision for the future.

He said: "These changes are a very clear signal of our commitment to strong current affairs programming and to investigative journalism."

It has been confirmed that investigative output will return as part of the the 'Prime Time' remit.

Investigative

'Prime Time' and Pat Kenny's 'The Frontline' -- which moves to a more prominent 9.30pm slot on Mondays -- are expected to work closely together.

They will be broadcast from a new shared studio, and the four presenters -- Pat Kenny, Miriam O'Callaghan, George Lee and Claire Byrne -- will appear on both shows.

They will also continue with their respective programmes on RTE Radio One.

Tom Savage, chairman of the RTE board, told the Irish Independent that it retains a strong commitment to investigative journalism.

"We were never walking away from investigative journalism (but it was decided that) the brand of 'Prime Time Investigates' itself would be stood down and a new one replace it."

A two-hour morning news TV programme on RTE One will be launched next year. And 'The Week In Politics' will be broadcast on Sundays at midday on RTE One as well as later in the evening.

Other developments include a new-look 'News On Two' and an updated RTE News Now app offering rolling news updates.

The existing RTE News website will also be revamped, as will the 'Morning Ireland' radio studio.

Various editorial appointments will be announced in the coming weeks, including positions for an editor at 'Prime Time', Head of Investigations Unit Managing Editor, News (Television) and Western correspondent. Miriam O'Callaghan insisted the arrival of Mr Bakhurst had boosted morale for the first time in months.

"Life is about going through difficult times, but you get over them -- I do think you come out of them stronger, and at the moment in RTE I think morale is high," she said.

'Six One' news anchor Bryan Dobson admitted: "It's a period of uncertainty, but the great thing about daily journalism is that you still have to put a show out every evening."

george is back: comment, page 33

Irish Independent

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