Saturday 18 November 2017

Journalist in Reynolds case quits after scathing report

Aoife Kavanagh (right) has apologised to Fr Kevin Reynolds (left) in the wake of the scandal.

Mark Hilliard

RTE reporter Aoife Kavanagh resigned last night after a damning report was published into the defamatory 'Prime Time Investigates' programme.

She also apologised to Fr Kevin Reynolds, the priest she wrongly accused of fathering a child with a woman in Kenya. Fr Reynolds received an estimated €1m in a libel settlement last year after being falsely accused of rape in the 'Mission To Prey' programme.Ms Kavanagh's decision to quit came after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) released a report that severely criticised RTE. The state broadcaster was fined €200,000. It claimed last night it was introducing sweeping reforms. In the first investigation of its kind, the BAI probed how the programme was put together. It found "one of the most significant errors made in broadcasting history".

The report also found:

- Secret filming of Fr Reynolds and a doorstep interview was an unreasonable breach of privacy.

- Credibility of key sources was not sufficiently questioned.

- RTE's legal affairs department became involved very late in the process.

- Lack of scrutiny and a "group-think" phenomenon where all evidence was interpreted as pointing in one direction.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte will bring the RTE board to a meeting on Tuesday at 8am.

He acknowledged they had no direct input to the programme but admitted his confidence had been "shaken" by the report.

RTE admitted the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its history.

The state broadcaster has already pulled 'Prime Time Investigates' off the air for good.

Among a long list of faults, the BAI pointed to serious failures in editorial controls, reporting practices and standards.

It found that Fr Reynolds was suddenly approached and accused of fathering a child in Kenya without the opportunity to agree to a pre-arranged interview.

It also noted that a last-ditch offer of a paternity test on the day of broadcast, May 23 last year, was never forwarded to RTE's legal team after being sent to Ms Kavanagh by email.

The BAI investigator Anna Carragher also said that given the serious nature of the allegations, she expected the reporter to have been more rigorous in exploring the credibility and trustworthiness of the one source the case relied on.

Ms Carragher, a former BBC controller in Northern Ireland, also found that it appeared second-hand repetition of gossip was treated as fact.

Four others are implicated in the report including former RTE head of news Ed Mulhall, who ultimately signed off on broadcasting the defamatory programme.

He has since retired, while producer Mark Lappin left to work for CNN in London. Current affairs editor Ken O'Shea was moved to a new role at RTE Two and 'Prime Time' executive producer Brian Pairceir remains off air.

However, Ms Kavanagh's departure was announced just two hours after the BAI report was published, heavily criticising her approach to her first ever 'Prime Time' investigation.

Last night, Ms Kavanagh was with friends and family. "She will just take some time now to take stock," a source said.

The Irish Independent understands she made the decision to resign a number of weeks ago but had to await the publication of the report.

Ms Kavanagh strongly rejected aspects of the findings relating to her performance as a journalist.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Fr Kevin Reynolds for the hurt caused to him," she said.

The 'Mission To Prey' programme cost €137,000 to make.

RTE last night accepted the findings of the BAI report and vowed never to allow a repeat of such "serious editorial errors".

Director general Noel Curran said the report did "not make easy reading. We are not proud of the picture presented in the findings".

Fr Reynolds, a popular parish priest in Ahascragh in Co Galway, will today preside over a First Holy Communion service -- the same service where he was secretly filmed by an RTE crew on May 7 last year.

In a statement his solicitor Robert Dore said "We will need time to consider its (the BAI report's) contents carefully before making any comment".

"Out of respect to the privacy of the children, their families and all of his parishioners he (Fr Reynolds) would ask all elements of the media not to interfere with him or them in any way. He does not wish to be interviewed nor does he wish to make a statement."

Mr Rabbitte said the report was far worse than he thought it would be.

Irish Independent

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