RTE board in firing line as Rabbitte talks tough
Solicitor for Fr Reynolds says blame for the 'Prime Time' shambles stops with Tom Savage
THE solicitor for Fr Kevin Reynolds has piled pressure on RTE chairman Tom Savage to resign by insisting that he is ultimately responsible for the catastrophic errors of the Prime Time Investigates programme A Mission To Prey.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Robert Dore said: "The buck stops with the head man in RTE. The head of the board."
He added: "If there are defective procedures within RTE that permitted this to happen, the responsibility for those defective procedures must go to the very top."
The solicitor's comments follow the publication of a damning report on the RTE programme by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), which criticised journalistic standards and a lack of editorial and managerial controls.
Mr Dore's remarks will increase the pressure on Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte in advance of a meeting that he has demanded with the RTE board this Tuesday morning.
Mr Dore stressed that he was not calling for the chairman's resignation but said that Mr Rabbitte would have his full support if he felt that there was a need for resignations at the very top of RTE's chain of command.
He said: "If he feels on the basis of all the information that's before him -- and on the basis of what is said to him by those attending that meeting next Tuesday -- that there should be resignations, it's not for me to second-guess his judgement."
Mr Rabbitte, who has responsibility for the national broadcaster, has demanded the meeting with the 13-member board at 8am on Tuesday to discuss the fallout from the report on the programme and the BAI's findings.
The BAI commissioned former BBC executive Anna Carragher to investigate whether the programme breached the Broadcasting Act when it falsely claimed that Fr Reynolds had raped and fathered a child with a girl while he was a missionary priest in Kenya.
The BAI found that RTE was unfair to Fr Kevin Reynolds and had breached his privacy; and it fined the broadcaster €200,000. Ms Carragher's report found:
- Secret filming of Fr Reynolds and a doorstep interview were unreasonable breaches of his privacy.
- Credibility of the key sources was not sufficiently questioned.
- RTE's legal affairs department became involved very late in the production process.
- Lack of scrutiny and challenge in the department led to a "groupthink" mentality.
RTE has accepted that the discredited documentary was "one of the most significant errors made in broadcasting history".
Until now, the pressure had largely focused on the editorial and production teams responsible for the programme. RTE's managing director of news, Ed Mulhall, took early retirement and the programme's presenter Aoife Kavanagh dramatically resigned hours after the BAI report was issued -- although RTE was unable to say yesterday what her severance terms would be.
Another key executive, Mark Lappin, has left the station and Ken O'Shea and Brian Pairceir have been deployed to other duties within RTE.
In an interview with RTE News on Friday, after publication of the report, Mr Rabbitte left open the possibility of departures at board level.
Asked three times for his views, he refused to express his confidence in the board.
"My confidence has been shaken but I have to hear what they have to say" he said.
"I intend to leave the board and the chairman under no misapprehension about the huge challenge that now confronts them in terms of restoring the trust that was the link with the Irish people."
Elsewhere, Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn also declined to give a vote of confidence to the board. Asked in an interview yesterday if "the board needs to go", the minister side-stepped the issue, saying: "It is for my colleague Pat Rabbitte to make a recommendation on that."
The Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said yesterday that the debacle had "done serious damage to RTE's reputation".
The failure to keep both Fr Reynolds and Mr Dore in the loop with the findings of the damning report was also highlighted this weekend.
Mr Dore had received a letter from the BAI, assuring him that the report would not be released until next week. He was on holiday in Spain when the report came out on Friday evening.
Similarly, Fr Reynolds was informed of the report's imminent release by a news reporter just 10 minutes before it was made public.
The report was released on the eve of Fr Reynolds's annual first holy communion mass in his parish --exactly a year after he was doorstepped by Aoife Kavanagh with the scurrilous and untrue accusations.
A social had been organised in his local parish of Ahascragh, Co Galway last night to celebrate the first holy communion -- celebrations were also expected to include the end of Fr Reynolds's deeply traumatic year.
Asked if measures taken to date were enough to restore the public's trust in RTE, Mr Dore said: "I don't know. That is going to take time.
"I presume that they have new procedures put in place but they are all going to have to be embedded in the organisation and we're going to have to see how they work before anyone could form an opinion on that.
"I think that that is an assessment that should be made some time in the future."
Meanwhile, RTE has refused to say whether or not Ms Kavanagh has received a financial payout or redundancy package following her resignation.
When questioned about a potential payout to the reporter, a statement from the broadcaster, sent yesterday afternoon, read: "Aoife Kavanagh's resignation was announced by her yesterday through the National Union of Journalists. RTE does not have any comment to add to her announcement."
Commenting on the resignation, Mr Dore said: "On a human level, genuinely, isn't it sad to see anybody lose their job in these times?
"It seems to me that she is a journalist of considerable talent but for whatever reasons she didn't exercise her best judgement in this particular incident, which has had very sad consequences for her. But genuinely I would feel sorry for her.
"I think it's sad that she has had to resign but that being said, you look at her resignation in the context of section four of that report and I think unfortunately her resignation was inevitable."
RTE chairman Tom Savage was unavailable for comment at the time that the Sunday Independent went to print.