Andrew Lynch: Did RTE put pressure on producers not to report Gerry story?

Andrew Lynch

So much for public service broadcasting. As the fall-out from Gerry Ryan's autopsy report continues, RTE is still doing its best to pretend that the whole thing is just a bad dream.

After enjoying such a fantastic high for so long, the comedown is giving them the shakes -- and while they must know in their hearts that this PR whitewash is the wrong thing to do, it'll be a long time before they're able to kick the habit of a lifetime.

Next Monday, RTE will screen a documentary about Gerry's life. We can be fairly certain that it will contain glowing tributes from the station's stars, even those who now claim they didn't know him quite as well as they thought.


We can be equally sure that if his cocaine addiction is mentioned at all, it will be tiptoed around so gently that nobody in Montrose takes any responsibility for failing to get him help until it was too late.

In the meantime, RTE seems determined to carry on treating the cocaine issue as if it was something completely alien to its own culture.

On Pat Kenny's radio programme yesterday, reporter Paddy O'Gorman was sent to interview a group of down-and-out junkies in the city centre who probably know as much about celebrity coke dealers as they do about quantum physics.

The breaking news that heroin had been discovered in a canteen toilet at RTE's headquarters, meanwhile, went mysteriously unmentioned.

So when is RTE finally going to admit that it has a problem? The station's media spokesman has accepted that the coverage of Gerry's autopsy was "less than it could have been", which must be a late contender for the understatement of the year.

He also insists that management did not order the producers of individual programmes to avoid the subject, despite the suspicious wall of silence that descended on Donnybrook within hours of the shocking news from the Coroner's Court.

Even if this is true, it does not exactly get RTE off the hook. It suggests that the station's biggest broadcasters, who are only too happy to seize the moral high ground when it suits them, were too cowardly to face the truth when it came to one of their own.

While the rest of the country was talking about just one thing, their contribution to the national conversation was just one long, embarrassed attempt to change the subject.

Are we really expected to believe that every producer in RTE came to the same editorial decision without any consideration of how it might play with their immediate bosses? The reality is that even if no explicit orders came from the top, there is a culture of self-protection within Montrose that means people instinctively know how to handle this kind of thing anyway.

It's not as if RTE doesn't recognise a decent news story when it sees one. As the recent Prime Time Investigates reports on NAMA and nursing home care have proved, the station has some excellent reporters who are well capable of lifting the lid on scandals.

When it comes to cleaning up their own doorstep, however, proper journalism is cast aside in favour of a touchy-feely cover-up that should be simply unacceptable from a State-funded broadcaster.

The contrast with this ongoing non-coverage of Ryan's lifestyle and the treatment of Katy French's tragic end in 2007 could hardly be any more striking. While it must have been painful for the model's family to have her private life exposed on the airwaves, there was widespread agreement that highlighting the dangers of drug abuse was in the public interest.

Of course, many people in RTE loved Gerry and must feel desperately conflicted about discussing the inner demons that led to his lonely death last April. But they are also professionals who are heavily subsidised by a television licence fee and therefore have a duty to reflect the public's concerns.

This ongoing attempt to sweep the whole thing under the carpet is a gross insult to the people who pay their wages.


Luckily, there are reasons to be optimistic that they will not get away with it. If Ryan's regular dealer is traced by the gardai, then his mobile phone contacts will be subject to intense scrutiny -- and cross-referencing it with a list of RTE employees could produce some very interesting results.

It will then be up to the station's management to take disciplinary action against any staff who have broken the law.

As the snow falls over Montrose, it's another white substance that should really be giving RTE cause for concern.

This is going to be long, painful comedown -- and there's no guarantee they'll be able to get through it in one piece.