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Monday 20 November 2017

RTE's Savage under attack from inquiry

John Drennan

John Drennan

RTE chairman Tom Savage may be facing an unprecedented vote of no confidence by the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, which is conducting an inquiry into the role played by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the RTE Authority in the Fr Reynolds libel case.



Last week, during what was widely perceived to be an unsatisfactory performance by Mr Savage, the Independent TD Mattie McGrath called for the resignation of the RTE chairman.

Mr Savage was sharply criticised by Fianna Fail minister Eamon O Cuiv and Sinn Fein's Martin Ferris, while committee chairman Andrew Doyle said that the committee was in a state of "deep unease'' in the wake of Mr Savage's presentation.

Mr Savage's position may, ironically, be further eroded by RTE's new draft guidelines on how station employees should deal with issues such as "objectivity'' and "impartiality''.

The guidelines, seen by the Sunday Independent, are particularly rigorous in the area of "conflicts of interest and programme makers''.

Speaking on the matter, the Labour senator John Whelan, who has played a prominent role in the committee's investigation, warned that the "close connections between Mr Savage, The Communications Clinic and Fine Gael and in particular Enda Kenny means RTE chairman Tom Savage is, himself, in conflict with the guidelines".

Mr Whelan also warned Mr Savage, ahead of the second Dail grilling he faces next week, that "we were approaching the point where the committee may call on the RTE chairman to resign or face a motion of no confidence".

The draft guidelines, drawn up in the wake of the Fr Reynolds libel case, state that presenters and "programme makers should declare any conflict of interest to their editorial line managers''.

They also note "a register of interests" will be established for all key editorial staff, where "arrangements regarding the nature and administration of this register will be determined by provisions which will be determined by the BAI code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs when it is finalised''.

The draft code also notes that the viewing public should be able to "regard RTE . . . to be neutral on issues of public controversy".

In a scathing attack at the committee hearing last week, Mr Whelan claimed that the scenario where Mr Savage's wife "Terry Prone is used as a spin-doctor and political analyst on virtually every single programme aired on RTE, the national State broadcaster, represented the elephant in the room'' when it came to reform and restoring RTE's reputation for impartiality.

Though a declaration of no confidence by the committee would have no legal consequence, it would seriously erode the position of a chairperson of the RTE board.

Sunday Independent

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