RTE gripped by fear over fallout from Prime Time

Kevin Doyle

RTE's long record of investigative reporting has been left hamstrung - with many staff now utterly afraid of tackling controversial issues.

It's the result of the Primetime Investigates scandal and the failure of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to recommend sanctions against individual staff members.

Station sources told the Herald today that staff are feeling "totally hamstrung by fear" since the Fr Kevin Reynold's scandal exploded.

"Nobody wants to touch anything controversial, anything that we could be criticised for, or anything that is out of the ordinary. It's fair to say that the place is gripped by fear."

The broadcaster was due to receive a copy of the long-awaited report today -- but station bosses will have to make their own minds up about the fate of Prime Time Investigates reporter Aoife Kavanagh and producer Brian Parceir.

Miss Kavanagh, a Morning Ireland presenter, is considered "RTE royalty" such has been her track record in the station. She is partner of Primetime anchor Richard Crowley.

Sources told the Herald that while the BAI make a series of tough recommendations, it is outside their remit to tell RTE if it should make personnel changes.

A source explained: "The report is very detailed. It doesn't actually include sanctions but does have a list of recommendations.

"RTE will be informed of the sanction -- which could be a fine of up to €250,000 -- in a notification of a breach of standards that is delivered at the same time.

"Of course any fine would be a case of one arm of the State handing over cash to another."

However, the move means that the RTE hierarchy will have to make its own decisions regarding the futures of Ms Kavanagh and Mr Parceir.

On Tuesday, the former head of news Ed Mulhall retired while Prime Time editor Ken O'Shea moved from his role to a position in RTE Two.

RTE executives have already received a summary of the BAI's findings but are anxiously awaiting the full report.

"I suspect the action by RTE in recent days means they are unlikely to appeal the BAI's decision. The fact that they have already admitted that they made a mistake and given an apology has to be taken into account as well," said a source.

"The report will be very thorough. It will say everything that needs to be said."

RTE has now convened an external Investigation Board to conduct an investigation, under RTE's procedures, into all personnel matters arising in respect of A Mission To Prey.

This latest inquiry will make specific recommendations concerning RTE personnel.

Sources today questioned why yet another investigation was necessary, given that RTE has a Human Resources Department that would normally deal with personnel issues.

"The Investigation Board has commenced work and will report to RTE Group Head of HR," said RTE in a statement.