Friday 18 October 2019

Media responsibility must be guaranteed and independent regulation is the way – Martin

Martin blasts broadcaster for delay in admitting mistakes

Edel O'Connell and reporters

THE second most senior Catholic Church leader today called for the independent regulation of media in the wake of the Fr Kevin Reynolds’ defamation case.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that he was not trying to curb journalism, but to find ways that responsibility was guaranteed.

He said that press freedom was a vital element of society and investigative journalism had done much good, but he compared it to market freedom and said that independent regulation was required.

Speaking on Morning Ireland he said there may be an anti Catholic bias on the part of some journalists, but you could not say that there was an anti Catholic bias in the media in general.

He heaped further pressure on RTE bosses over their handling of the case of Fr Kevin Reynolds by questioning the accountability of RTE managers.

He told the Irish Independent that in a similar situation, a bishop would be told to "voluntarily resign" rather than temporarily stand aside.

He is the most senior Catholic Church figure to be openly critical of the national broadcaster's handling of the case -- which centres on false allegations that Fr Kevin Reynolds (65), sexually abused a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982, fathered a child by her and abandoned the child.

The false allegations were broadcast on a 'Prime Time Investigates' programme called 'A Mission to Prey'.

A paternity test showed Fr Reynolds was not the father of the child.

Fr Reynolds, the parish priest of Ahascragh in Co Galway, successfully sued RTE in relation to the programme, broadcast in May.

The payout is believed to be in the region of a seven-figure sum – some sources have estimated that it could be as much as €1.4m.

Dr Martin's criticism comes just days after two senior RTE figures -- managing director of news Ed Mulhall and head of current affairs Ken O'Shea -- stepped aside pending the outcome of three probes into the case.

Dr Martin was also critical of the length of time it took RTE to "hold their hands up and admit mistakes were made".

"If this were in the church the bishops would be told to voluntarily resign rather than stand aside. The level of accountability has to be questioned here, it took a long time before people came and held their hands up and said 'look we made a serious mistake here'," he said.

The senior cleric said he felt it important that people step aside while an investigation was carried out but added he felt there was a tendency at RTE to "identify some kind of a mid-management person in these cases".

He said the Reynolds case raised "basic questions about the controls that there are in an organisation which would allow this to happen to anybody".

"This was a very serious allegation, the man offered to have a paternity test done, so we need to understand why, and who, and at what level those decisions were made," he said.

"There is an investigation going on to see exactly what happened but I imagine the journalist felt there were sources there and we will have to see whether or not the security checks were in place and properly adhered to," he added.

The archbishop said he would not cast any judgments while investigations into the case were ongoing but it "worried him" how a story was broadcast which was later described by RTE in its apology as "baseless and untrue".

"What worries me is RTE say this is without foundation, baseless and untrue. How did it come that it was adjudicated that there was a semblance of truth here?" he asked.

"I don't know what evidence was presented to whoever asked Fr Reynolds to step aside but RTE made their programme, they seemed to be defended by many people the next day, 'Morning Ireland' picked it up and the Minister for Justice made statements on it and now we hear it was without foundation," he added.


Archbishop Martin said he had never heard an apology from RTE "in such clear terms" and called for greater accountability in the media.

"In the UK you have the issue of the behaviour of some 'News of the World' journalists -- obviously self monitoring hasn't always worked. We have to foster press freedom and respect it, but if journalists can act irresponsibly or newspapers or public broadcasting authorities then we need a situation where there is accountability to satisfy the public that this kind of thing can't happen to you or I," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Fr Reynolds's solicitor Robert Dore said he was to meet with his client later this week in response to claims made this weekend over the source of the story.

Separate newspapers reported that a priest had made the allegations and that the story had been confirmed by a teacher in Kenya.

"We have yet to discuss what we are going to do. There are three investigations going on," he said.

"You are looking at a guy who has been plucked out of obscurity and landed in the limelight."

Irish Independent

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