Thursday 14 December 2017

RTE chairman Tom Savage comes under attack at Dail Committee hearing

Lyndsey Telford

RTE chairman Tom Savage has come under attack during a grilling at a Communications Dail Committee meeting following on from the Prime Time Investigates programme that defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds.

Senator John Whelan said he was "flabbergasted" by the chairman, who had claimed RTE members of staff were also victims of the defamation scandal.

RTE wrongly accused Fr Reynolds of raping a woman and fathering a child in Kenya in its Prime Time Investigates Mission to Prey programme, which aired last May.

A report compiled by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland last month found the broadcaster was guilty of editorial and control management failures.

RTE was fined €200,000 and the journalist who made the accusations, Aoife Kavanagh, resigned.

Fr Reynolds also received an undisclosed sum, believed to be in the region of €1m in compensation.

"Come down from your ivory tower, take us seriously and show some respect," said Mr Whelan.

He accused Mr Savage of failing to take responsibility for the controversy.

"He is washing his hands of any responsibility for the systematic failures, low morale and poor standards, and the group-think which is spawned by a cult of clique and cronyism, which you preside over," Mr Whelan added.

"We are all absolutely committed to that."

The Senator also said Mr Savage's position at the top of the RTE board was not tenable if the impartiality, integrity and independence of the broadcaster could not be restored.

Mr Savage vehemently denied accusations that he was a spin doctor.

He also shot down a suggestion from Independent TD Mattie McGrath that he had been coached for today's Oireachtas Committee cross-examination, saying it was "a slur".

The broadcasting boss, who served as a priest for eight years, also extended his sympathies to Fr Reynolds over the controversy.

He said there was nobody "in this room" who felt worse about Fr Reynolds.

"If you spend eight years in the priesthood you know the only thing that sustains you is your spirituality, your pastoral care and your ethical standards.

"If those are taken away from you, you are left bereft and recovery even after you are exonerated is a long and difficult thing."

Earlier, RTE's director general insisted there will be no repeat of the defamation scandal surrounding Father Kevin Reynolds.

Noel Curran said while it is hard to make concrete guarantees in journalism, he believes the State broadcaster will not make the same mistakes again.

"It's very hard to give absolutes in journalism, but I don't believe this will happen again," said Mr Curran.

"When you go through the detail, what we've discovered ourselves, I believe if we get this right in terms of implementation of changes ... then we can minimise that risk.”

Press Association

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