Saturday 26 May 2018

Fr Kevin Reynolds libel: RTE needs permanent scrutiny says Taoiseach

Lyndsey Telford

A NEW cross-party watchdog should be set up to hold RTE to account, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

In the wake of the Father Kevin Reynolds defamation scandal the Government will recommend that a new committee takes responsibility for scrutinising the public service broadcaster.



The Taoiseach said the hugely damaging Mission to Prey programme, which has seen reporter Aoife Kavanagh resign, news chief Ed Mulhall retire and Prime Time Investigates taken off-air, was an appalling situation.



A recommendation is being made to create a sub-committee of the existing Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture.



Mr Kenny said: "[It would provide] the opportunity to hold meetings and have a really thorough, comprehensive discussion about public service broadcasting, what it means and the way the entire world of broadcasting has changed utterly in the last number of years."



He added that the establishment of such a group would be in the public's interest following the controversial circumstances in which RTE broadcast false accusations that Fr Reynolds raped a minor and fathered a child with her in Kenya more than 30 years ago.



Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte met RTE bosses yesterday and it was agreed that the state broadcaster would first write a report detailing steps being taken to ensure no repeat of Mission to Prey and then file monitoring reviews every three months.



The organisation was fined €200,000 following a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) ruling that it had defamed Fr Reynolds.



Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who called for the establishment of a committee to scrutinise the media, said: "This is a dramatic wake-up call to everyone who believes in the value and importance of public sector broadcasting."



He pointed out that other scandals in the media, such as phone hacking in England and the Leveson Inquiry into media standards in London, could be prevented in Ireland with a dedicated watchdog.



The Taoiseach claimed that the last Government had too many groups and committees and that TDs were unable to fully commit themselves to any of them.



He said: "Members of the house on all sides were running from one committee to the next, with the level of complaint of inability to actually deal with issues in a real sense."



The BAI published its damning report on the Fr Reynolds case last Friday, criticising the secret filming of the priest and the lack of note-taking during research and production. It ruled there had been a significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the state broadcaster.



Prime Time Investigates has been taken off the air permanently.



Meanwhile, Fr Reynolds has said he is accepts the decision not to seek resignations from the RTE board.



Fr Reynolds expressed agreement with the response of his solicitor Robert Dore who said he respected the judgement of Communications Minister, Pat Rabbitte, not to seek changes.



Fr Reynolds, who was wrongly accused of fathering a child in Africa in the notorious Prime Time Investigates programme, was speaking to the Irish Times from his home in Ahascragh, Co Galway.



Mr Rabbitte spent two hours with the board yesterday and said that they understood the seriousness of the libel.



“The matter caused grave damage not only to Fr Kevin Reynolds but also to RTE,” Mr Rabbitte said.



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