Friday 23 March 2018

Top dogs looking a little sheepish in the lions' den

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

IF the chairman and director general of RTE weren't exactly whistling a nonchalant tune as they entered the committee room in Leinster House yesterday afternoon, nor were the pair sporting the petrified expressions of two Christians entering an arena full of ravenous lions.

For Tom Savage and Noel Curran -- along with the members of the now-defunct 'Prime Time Investigates' team -- are fast becoming battle-hardened.

They've been thoroughly mauled of late over the ghastly debacle that was the 'Mission to Prey' programme which traduced Fr Kevin Reynolds last May.

The fallout -- which so far has included a huge libel pay-out to the wronged priest, resignations and reassignments of staff, a damning report and a six-figure fine from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) -- is still falling, however.

And so RTE's two top dogs faced a grilling yesterday from a roomful of deputies and senators hungry to quiz them.

But the members snacked first on Bob Collins and Michael O'Keeffe, chairman and chief executive of the BAI.

Mr Savage made an effort to slake their appetite in his opening statement, declaring that it still finds it "inexplicable" that the programme ever went to air.

But it soon became evident that both he and Mr Curran had a mission of their own -- and that was to walk the tricky tightrope of damage limitation, fully accepting blame for 'Mission to Prey' while emphasising that this was a once-off, a programme which went rogue.

"One programme in a series with an unequalled record in investigative journalism -- one programme last May," Tom stressed, "has gravely damaged RTE."

This assurance was echoed a little later by Mr Curran, who argued that the BAI investigator's comment about "systemic failure" within the organisation meant that "we had systems failures in RTE, our guidelines in terms of door-stepping, secret filming were ambiguous".

But their Oireachtas inquisitors were not assuaged and they piled on with relish. Eamon O Cuiv was gung-ho to unleash the sniffer-watchdogs on all the broadcaster's current affairs doings of the past 12 months.

Like Tipp's own Salome, Independent TD Mattie McGrath called for the head of Mr Savage.

"You must consider your position and resign," he informed the chairman.

As far as Mattie was concerned, Tom had been "making a laugh of the minister" in his press conference after the board meeting with Pat Rabbitte in which no heads rolled.

Replied Tom: "On the day when I spoke after the meeting with Minister Rabbitte, nothing was further from my mind than this was humorous. In fact, it was a most fraught meeting."

Noel also was doughty in defence under the barrage of criticism. "The idea that RTE is beyond regulation has been completely blown out of the water in the last number of months," he contended.

All too soon -- for the Oireachtas inquisitors, that is -- the alloted time was up and the dismayed members who didn't get a chance to gnaw on the RTE bosses clamoured for a re-match.

And so Noel and Tom must venture into the arena for a second bout next Tuesday. But the fallout just keeps on coming -- despite the best efforts of the broadcaster's top brass, this is one RTE production that's set to run and run and run.

Irish Independent

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