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Priest's shameful treatment shows what an arrogant behemoth RTE has become

DOES RTE really understand just how badly it screwed up?

Have the mandarins of Montrose actually imagined what it might be like to be falsely accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl, fathering a child and then abandoning them both?

Are they genuinely sorry for the hurt they've caused or are they determined to sweep the whole thing under the carpet as quietly as possible?

Judging by RTE's panicked response to the Fr Kevin Reynolds affair, the answer to all these question is obvious.

Admitting that Prime Time Investigates was guilty of libel may have cost the station hundreds of thousands in damages, but the long-term effect on its reputation could be even more costly.

It confirms yet again that the decision-makers in Donnybrook are dangerously detached from the licence-payers they're supposed to serve -- and suggests that their near-monopoly on Irish broadcasting needs to be dismantled once and for all.

There is simply no way to excuse RTE's actions. Long before the offending programme was aired last May, Fr Reynolds' solicitors warned them that the allegations were complete rubbish and offered to prove it with a paternity test.

This was not a live broadcast where some wild rumour was blurted out in the heat of the moment -- it was a carefully planned ambush that took months to prepare and was fronted by one of the station's most experienced reporters.

A quick trip to Ormond Quay Paternity Services would have cost €700 and saved an awful lot of heartache. Instead, RTE acted as if the mere idea of it making a mistake was completely laughable.

The programme makers had every opportunity to put the brakes on, but it wasn't until an innocent man had seen his reputation destroyed that they finally came out with their hands up.

If RTE was now expressing some true remorse over this debacle, it might be easier to forgive them. Instead, the station has made matters even worse by the high-handed tone of its apologies.



Monotone

The statement read out after last Thursday's Nine O'Clock News was delivered in a bored monotone, while every on-air discussion about the scandal has referred to 'RTE' as if was some mysterious organisation in a far-off land.

An internal investigation is now under way, but we already know one fact that raises serious questions over RTE's work practices. When Fr Reynolds' solicitors wrote a letter of protest, the reply came directly from reporter Aoife Kavanagh herself -- not the station's legal department as you might expect.

If a politician had made this kind of outrageously false accusation, every journalist in RTE would be calling for their resignation.

Last week, however, corporate communications chief Kevin Dawson dodged the issue of sackings with the pious statement, "It's very difficult for a rolled head to learn anything."

Well, it's even more difficult to see how Prime Time can carry on sitting in judgment of others when its bosses are so quick to find excuses for their own blunder.

The explanation for this whole sorry saga is actually very simple. It arises directly from RTE's arrogance, a quality that can be seen in everything from the grossly inflated salaries it pays its stars to the steady flow of programmes that treat us like morons.

For anyone who doesn't actually live within a few miles of Montrose, the Dublin-centric content of RTE news programmes is also a daily irritant. Viewers outside the Pale can justifiably complain that a few drops of rain in the capital often make headline news while full-scale flooding 'down the country' is treated as a regional footnote.

Above all, RTE's arrogance is shown by the shameless manner in which it promotes its own celebrities. Week after week, the station's chat shows are dominated by promos for other RTE programmes, suggesting that the line-up of guests is determined by whoever happens to be hanging around the canteen on a Friday.

In a new era of digital broadcasting, it is surely time to remove the monopoly that gives it such an unfair advantage over all its rivals -- and spread the licence fee around so that viewers can finally be given a real choice.


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