Tuesday 17 September 2019

RTÉ staff were told Pope Francis's visit is 'no Electric Picnic'

Crowds to see Pope Francis at the Phoenix Park last August. Picture: Getty
Crowds to see Pope Francis at the Phoenix Park last August. Picture: Getty
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

RTÉ decided not to "collar" people for interview while Pope Francis was at Knock Shrine because the event was "no Electric Picnic or the Ploughing Championships".

Notes from a meeting between officials at the Department of the Taoiseach and the broadcaster have revealed how the event was to be covered.

Some 45,000 people braved the rain to see the Pontiff at the Co Mayo shrine.

"This event is not Electric Picnic and it's not The Ploughing. This is a solemn religious event," said notes of the meeting, initially drawn up by an RTÉ editor.

"In other words, there will not be punters milling about, who might be collared for a quick interview while the Pope is at the shrine."

The notes said that once the Pope arrived on site at the back of the Basilica in the Phoenix Park, there would be "no free movement" for the media.

There was one exception, though.

Presenter Joe Duffy got his own 'Duffymobile' when he sought permission to go through the exclusion zone in the Park to fulfil his broadcasting duties.

The notes show there was relief when RTÉ secured permission for Duffy's transport arrangements.

Two days before the Phoenix Park Mass, senior production editor Roger Childs wrote to officials at the Taoiseach's department in an email titled "Joe Duffy bi-location".

Duffy was to attend the Mass but was also lined up to present a live 'Would You Believe? Special' called 'The Francis Effect' that evening and was needed back in Donnybrook for camera rehearsals.

Mr Childs wrote: "I have white smoke."

He said the gardaí had "very kindly agreed to let RTÉ take a liveried Jeep to the Cabra gate after 6pm to pick up Joe Duffy and bring him across the exclusion zone".

An RTÉ spokesperson said the broadcaster had consulted with gardaí about traffic restrictions on the day, both at Knock Shrine and in Dublin.

A statement said: "Due to the pressures of live broadcasting, transport arrangements for presenting and technical teams are often made when covering major events."

The spokesman added: "RTÉ was aware well in advance of the media arrangements in place surrounding Knock Shrine and was happy to work within them."

RTÉ was the host broadcaster for the Pope's visit.

Viewership figures showed that more than one million people tuned in to watch at least some of the Papal Mass.

The attendance on the day stood at just over 150,000.

Irish Independent

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