They are all highly professional people who do an excellent job – but this lapse of judgment at an ‘impromptu’ celebration is incredible
They spend their days and nights grilling the great and the good about their failings and shortcomings, so how can we have confidence in RTÉ’s ‘star’ broadcasters after they were photographed at a social event, clearly ignoring the rules they hold others accountable for.
Is it another case of “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you” – this time in RTÉ?
In the middle of the pandemic a series of pictures have emerged of Bryan Dobson, Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh at a social event in Montrose, posing with a colleague and ignoring the social distancing rules they are so good at pontificating about to others.
There is even one picture of newsreader Eileen Dunne and the departing colleague Phil Collins, snapped on an official RTÉ mat with the legend ‘Observe Social Distancing’, as they stand side by side.
The station’s managing director of news, Jon Williams, deputy managing director of news Hilary McGouran, presenter Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh and political correspondent Paul Cunningham were also present at what is now being described as an “impromptu” social event where RTÉ insist that “overall” social distancing and compliance with the rules was observed.
But, it concedes the event was “unnecessarily risky” and should not have happened.
In terms of public relations, this is a disaster for the state broadcaster.
What makes them so different now, people will ask, to the hen party in the Berlin Bar, or the weekend mobs in Dublin and Cork, or those thronging the streets of suburban Blackrock with their takeaway pints on a recent mild winter’s night?
The only difference is that the highly-paid public servants of RTÉ were not photographed with drinks in their hands. But the principle is the same – they were clearing ignoring the rules as set down by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
Indeed what makes them any different to Séamus Woulfe, the hapless newly appointed Supreme Court judge, who went to what most people agree was a socially-distant golf outing and dinner in Clifden and has kept Six One, Nine O’Clock News and Prime Time going ever since?
The message delivered to the general public is that its OK for ‘us’ to fete a valued departing colleague because we work in RTÉ, but you lot out there should obey the rules or we will hold you accountable.
Of course one feels a certain sympathy for Phil Collins who was the centre of attention because it was her last day working in RTÉ. Like any normal person in normal times, her departure should be celebrated by her colleagues. But these are not normal times. These are times when people have to talk through windows to close family, when they can’t go to funerals or attend Sunday mass.
Teachers and students all over the country are operating in self-imposed bubbles, wearing masks and occupying classrooms with doors and windows wide open. They are doing it because that is what they have been told to do.
The public has a clear set of guidelines about social distancing and wearing face masks to try to weaken this pandemic – and then these happy, clappy photographs from RTÉ turn up in the media.
RTÉ has also admitted that the “impromptu” celebration was attended by a “small number of officials” as well as broadcasters, paying tribute to a valued colleague. It is not as if the likes of Miriam, Bryan, David or Eileen don’t know the rules. We know they do.
So what makes them think that once they pass through the doors of Montrose they are living in a parallel universe?
This is not just an embarrassment to RTÉ. It has placed the News at One, Prime Time, Six One and Nine O’Clock News in a very serious and difficult position. How are these highly-paid and highly-rated broadcasters to continue holding others unaccountable when they don’t observe the basic rules of social distancing themselves?
These are the front-line workers we depend on to bring us the news and tell us who is not conforming to the national effort that is ruining the economy and demoralising large sections of the community.
They have let people down, especially those all over the country who are struggling to observe social distancing and the other draconian measures introduced in an attempt to beat this awful pandemic.
And who thought it was a good idea for someone to bring a camera along and take a series of photographs at this social gathering? Do some of our most senior broadcasters not know that once something is immortalised on film who knows where it is going to turn up! That, in itself, shows a serious lack of judgment.
These are all highly professional people, they all do an excellent job and they are looked-up to by the public, and rightly so. But with this lapse and lack of self-awareness, they have let themselves and the public down.
RTÉ management also has questions to answer about what might now end up being called ‘RTÉgate’.
Of course, they are going to try to downplay the incident but that is not how others will see it. Why were senior staff allowed to be so cavalier with the rules and why did someone in authority not intervene to tell them that not only was it not a good idea, it was not acceptable on any level.
You expect ‘groupthink’ from a crowd of golfers who lose all sense of perspective at the sight of a small round white ball. But not from some of the best-paid journalists in the country.
Sean O’Rourke must have broken a wry smile this morning.