A MEDIA watchdog has begun an inquiry into how documents from its investigations into the Fr Kevin Reynolds defamation scandal were leaked.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) said it was dismayed that confidential briefing papers which severely criticised standards of journalism at RTE were released to the press.
RTE accused members of the watchdog of undermining its own regulations after a series of findings were passed on to The Irish Times before the broadcaster had a chance to answer them.
"The BAI has expressed its dismay and deep disappointment that information regarding an ongoing BAI investigation has entered the public domain," a spokeswoman said.
The watchdog also reiterated that the statutory investigation process is continuing and that RTE has until April 20 to respond to the report which was handed over last Thursday.
RTE has been under increasing turmoil over the hugely damaging Prime Time Investigates documentary which wrongly claimed Fr Reynolds raped a minor in Africa and fathered a child.
The broadcaster has seen head of news Ed Mulhall retire in the fallout as well as being hit with an undisclosed but massive libel payout ranging from €750,000 up to €5m.
It is also facing a fine of up to €250,000 from the BAI for the defamation.
Findings on the affair by former BBC controller in Northern Ireland Anna Carragher are being examined by RTE chiefs before a decision is made on whether to respond with submissions, seek an appeal in the High Court or an oral hearing.
Kevin Dawson, RTE's head of corporate communications, declined to comment directly on the findings but said he feared the leak may prejudice the station's response.
"RTE wishes to express its disappointment that this report has leaked in circumstances where it prejudices RTE's response to the investigation, within an ongoing process, and prejudices the response of the programme makers as named individuals," he said.
"If fair regulatory procedures are to apply, RTE and the production team must be allowed to make submissions to the BAI in response to the report, within the process.
"The leaking of the report has undermined that process. RTE will continue to observe the process, as it is required to do."
Mr Dawson said the station would give an absolutely full account in due course.
Among the criticisms of the programme makers and the station, it is understood the inquiry has singled out grossly inadequate notes by the editorial team, an almost complete absence of documentary evidence, a lack of scrutiny by the production team and a failure to question colleagues and that second-hand repetition of gossip was treated as corroboration.
It is understood the watchdog has also found that the Prime Time documentary was unfair to Fr Reynolds and in breach of his privacy.
Late last year, Mr Mulhall and Ken O'Shea, who last month resigned as current affairs editor to move into a new role at RTE Two, stepped down temporarily while the independent inquiry into the damning errors at the flagship investigative series was carried out.
The pair stood aside after Fr Reynolds sued the broadcaster over the Mission To Prey programme, which aired on May 23 last year.
Prime Time executive producer Brian Pairceir and reporter Aoife Kavanagh have been off air since the inquiry began.
It is widely expected some figures involved in the broadcast will consider legal action over some findings.