Saturday 16 December 2017

RTE board given week to file report on how to avoid repeat of defamatory Fr Reynolds programme

Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Damien Eagers
Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Damien Eagers
Fr Kevin Reynolds

Ed Carty

THE board of RTE has been given one week to file a report on all steps it is taking to prevent a repeat of the defamatory Mission to Prey programme.

Senior management at the State broadcaster have also been tied into writing monitoring reviews for Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte every three months.



The close scrutiny was agreed at a two hour morning meeting between the minister and the 13 board members in Montrose amid the fallout from the Fr Kevin Reynolds affair.



RTE was fined €200,000 and reporter Aoife Kavanagh quit after a media watchdog found the Prime Time Investigates show carried damaging and untrue allegations about the missionary priest by wrongly accusing him of raping a minor and fathering a child while working in Kenya 30 years ago.



"The Board is in no doubt that full implementation of all measures is necessary," Mr Rabbitte said.



During the meeting, which was described as a frank exchange, no resignations from the board were offered or demanded, the minister said.



"I'm satisfied that the board fully appreciates the seriousness of what's happened," Mr Rabbitte said.



"The board attempted to offer no excuse for what happened. The board accepts that it ought not happen and that it did damage not just to the reputation of Fr Reynolds but also did damage to the reputation of RTE.



"There was no defence offered for what happened. The systems failed."



During the meeting Mr Rabbitte said that the board reaffirmed that a grievous wrong had been done to Fr Reynolds and that RTE was gravely at fault.



The first detailed report from the RTE board will set out all steps being taken to address the serious systemic shortcomings exposed in the controversy.



The quarterly reports will measure how the new processes and arrangements are being embedded into the organisation as a whole, the minister said.



The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) report published last Friday evening criticised the secret filming of Fr Reynolds and the lack of note taking during research and production, and highlighted the significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organisation.



Fr Reynolds, who had threatened to sue before the Mission To Prey programme was broadcast, was later cleared when two tests proved he was not the child's father. The station made an out-of-court settlement with the priest, believed to be about one million euro (£800,000).



Prime Time Investigates was taken off-air for good in the aftermath of the defamation scandal.



Elsewhere in the broadcaster, head of news Ed Mulhall took early retirement while editor Ken O'Shea was moved in to a new role in RTE2. Producer Brian Pairceir was taken off air while Mark Lappin who also worked on the programme has left for a new post with CNN in London.



Mr Rabbitte said he was confident that the recommendations from investigations in the scandal would be implemented.



They include new rules that all communications from solicitors regarding content should be forwarded to the legal affairs department and a review of guidelines on both surreptitious filming and doorsteps.



Former BBC executive Anna Carragher was tasked by the BAI with investigating the documentary and she concluded that RTE had been unfair to Fr Reynolds and had breached his privacy.



It also warned of a so-called group-think mentality and lack of scrutiny; insufficient questioning of the primary source's credibility; and the late involvement of the legal section in RTE.



Ms Kavanagh resigned on Friday night after the report was published but refused to accept all of its findings.



RTE has admitted that the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its broadcasting history and that the material should never have been broadcast.



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