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Ex-RTE chief blasts team in Prime Time priest debacle

SEVERE criticisms of RTE's handling of the Fr Kevin Reynolds story have been made by its own former director of television Helen O'Rahilly.

There were "shocking" aspects, she said, to the way the national broadcaster dealt with the claims of rape against the priest which were proved to be false after the programme was broadcast

Hitting out at RTE, Ms Rahilly said what has emerged about the programme makers methods were "extremely damning."

Ms O'Rahilly is a former Director of Television at RTE who had previously worked as a BBC executive. She indicated she returned to the BBC after only 10 months at RTE because she had difficulties about how the station operated. She was later promoted to Deputy Controller of BBC One.

She voiced her criticisms of RTE on the Last Word radio show on Today fm during a discussion on the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's probe into the Prime Time Investigates programme that defamed the priest by falsely alleging he had fathered a child.

She said when she joined RTE as Director of Television more than 10 years ago she asked for a copy of RTE's editorial guidelines but she "wasn't handed anything." She was so worried she brought the BBC editorial guidelines into RTE and told them they were needed.

"I'm shocked really that, 12 years later, RTE seem to be making up yet another set of editorial guidelines because certainly I never saw them," she said.

It is claimed the report into the matter says there was very little note taking at different stages of the story. It is understood the findings of the report are to be vigorously contested by individuals, including reporter Aoife Kavanagh.

Ms O'Rahilly said: "The idea of no note taking is unfathomable. Nowadays with MP3 players, with dictaphones, you bring one of those along and your have detailed [transcripts] and contemporaneous notes."

She referred to the "groupthink" mentality that appeared to have been a factor in the making of that programme. That 'groupthink' mentality was highlighted in the probe.

"When making programmes, 'groupthink' is to be avoided because"... you have to avoid the assumption that the facts you will bring in will fit that story and that it is still a great story. Everything that comes in should be questioned and challenged," she said.