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David Quinn: If 'groupthink' exists at RTE, we need to know


RTE board chairman Tom Savage and RTE director general Noel Curran arriving at Leinster House to meet the Oireachtas Communications Committee last week

RTE board chairman Tom Savage and RTE director general Noel Curran arriving at Leinster House to meet the Oireachtas Communications Committee last week

RTE board chairman Tom Savage and RTE director general Noel Curran arriving at Leinster House to meet the Oireachtas Communications Committee last week

A VERY considerable effort is being made to limit the damage being caused to RTE by the Fr Kevin Reynolds fiasco.

Paul Loughlin, a producer at RTE for many years, insisted in one newspaper that he never came across 'groupthink' at the station.

'Groupthink' is, of course, one of the factors blamed for the mistakes made by the team behind the 'Mission to Prey' programme that libelled Fr Reynolds.

Groupthink is when the members of a particular group share the same worldview, become subject to confirmation bias and become deaf to critical voices, especially critical voices that are antagonistic to the world view of the group itself.

Is it believable that 'Mission to Prey' is the only show in the history of RTE to suffer from groupthink? Scarcely. But Mr Loughlin insists that far from encountering groupthink, he instead witnessed many arguments over the content of this or that programme.

I'm sure he did, but that doesn't mean groupthink didn't exist at the station.

Were these arguments between Left and Right, liberal and conservative, religious and secular? That is extremely doubtful.

In 'The Irish Times' we had another former RTE journalist, Mike Milotte, saying the corporate view is that the 'Mission to Prey' programme was "a one-off mistake and an exception to otherwise fine programming from the 'Prime Time Investigates' stable".

He claimed the "only vocal challenge to the corporate view has come from the resurgent Catholic right, which is keen to depict the Reynolds case as the result of a deep-seated anti-Catholic culture within RTE."

Frankly, Mr Milotte hasn't been paying enough attention if he really believes it is only the "Catholic right" challenging the "corporate view".

Is Eoghan Harris a member of the "Catholic right"? Is Leo Varadkar? Is Kevin Myers? Is Noel Whelan? Is Jody Corcoran or Eilis O'Hanlon? All of these commentators, and more, have also pointed to a more generalised problem of bias that exists at RTE.

Writing in 'The Sunday Times' last weekend, Justine McCarthy, an inveterate critic of the Catholic Church, suggested that those seeking to exploit RTE's trouble were not the Catholic right, but politicians.

Apart from that, mind you, Ms McCarthy was defending RTE, and I'm sure she believes the Catholic right are also doing their best to discredit our national broadcaster.

For his part, Mr Milotte believes the problem at the station isn't groupthink or bias, but, in effect, a 'tabloidisation' of news values.

Well, that could be one factor, but if it was the only factor then the problem wouldn't have existed in the 1980s.

However, in the 1980s, fierce ideological battles were fought at RTE over current affairs programming, especially concerning the Troubles, between 'stickies' and 'provos'.

Okay, you might say this shows that in the 1980s at least there wasn't groupthink, given the fundamental nature of those battles.

However, the battles were between two left-wing factions who would have thought much the same way about a whole range of other issues. Where were the battles between left-wing and right-wing journalists?

IN his recent history of RTE, 'Window and Mirror', John Bowman writes that it is "in the very nature of television that it tended to attract ideologues -- and most of them well-intentioned ideologues, it must be allowed -- intent on convincing the viewers of the righteousness of their case".

Really, and what would that case be? A Catholic case? A pro-American one? Eurosceptic? Pro-Israeli? Pro-Fianna Fail?

We all know the answers to those questions.

It suits defenders of RTE to pretend there is no groupthink at the station, or that the problem is one of tabloidisation, or that the problems found in 'Mission to Prey' existed in that programme and that alone.

But this totally stretches credulity, as does the absurd claim that only the 'resurgent Catholic right' are challenging the corporate view that 'Mission to Prey' was a one-off. (For crying out loud, even the former editor of 'The Irish Times', Conor Brady, has suggested there might be a problem of groupthink at RTE).

In fact, the pretence that only the 'Catholic right' is challenging the corporate view is itself a classic example of groupthink.

The only way to find out for sure whether 'Mission to Prey' is a one-off or not is to do an audit of a selection of other programmes.

If it is indeed a one-off, as RTE's defenders say, then they have nothing to fear as the audit will confirm their point of view.

But if it is not a one-off, if in fact there is a much bigger problem at the station, then we have an absolute need to know, given RTE is the national broadcaster and the single most influential media outlet in Ireland.

So when the Oireachtas communications committee, which grilled RTE chairman Tom Savage on Tuesday, makes its recommendations concerning the station to Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, it has to insist that other RTE programmes be investigated as well.

Beyond contestation, this is in the

public interest.

Irish Independent