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Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Veteran RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird has described the scandal over the ‘Mission to Prey’ Prime Time Investigates episode as "the worst libel, the worst mistake RTÉ has ever been involved in".
The programme, broadcast on May 23, falsely accused Galway parish priest Fr Kevin Reynolds of raping a teenage girl while working as a missionary in Africa and of fathering her child. A paternity test later proved Fr Reynolds was not the father. RTÉ was forced to apologise and pay damages, believed to be in excess of €1m.
"Of course it damaged RTÉ, it damaged it enormously badly... it was the worst libel, the worst mistake RTÉ has ever been involved in. You can’t get any more horrendous than that," Charlie Bird told journalism students in University of Limerick yesterday.
"It’s had a huge consequence and a huge knock-on effect and it’s had a huge jolt to RTÉ itself. When we get something wrong we have to put up our hand and we have to make sure it doesn’t bloody well happen again and RTÉ has to be big enough to make sure that it doesn’t happen again."
He said he hoped RTÉ had learned its lesson. "I hope the professionals make their way back into the field in the future. When you are wrong you have to say that you are wrong. I certainly hope that the public’s confidence isn’t damaged beyond repair. Even the title [‘Mission to Prey’] was stupid."
Despite Prime Time Investigates being shelved at least temporarily, RTÉ will tonight broadcast a probe into the prostitution industry planned for the series.
Prime Time Investigates was to be kept off air until Professor John Horgan completed an independent review into RTÉ’s current affairs editorial processes. The review was finished in December but the details have not been published.
RTÉ started filming and researching tonight’s programme as a Prime Time Investigates episode prior to the decision to stop the series.
"RTÉ broadcasts this report now because of the serious issues of criminality and exploitation of vulnerable women involved in the sex industry," it said. "The project is the work of an editorial team continuing to work within the Prime Time programme unit and production has continued since November under the supervision of acting editor of current affairs Steve Carson. The programme has been finalised and checked in the context of the recommendations by Prof Horgan."
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