RTÉ chairman resists calls to quit

RTÉ chairman resists calls to quit

RTÉ chairman Tom Savage has insisted only Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte can force him to step down over the 'Prime Time Investigates' scandal.

The broadcasting boss dismissed calls for his resignation in the wake of the defamation of innocent priest Fr Kevin Reynolds, who was wrongly accused of rape and fathering a child.

“It’s up to the minister to decide whether I’m a fit person or not,” said Mr Savage.

“There are almost no bonuses or kudos for being in the position. Every day I give to the job would be a financial loss for what I could be doing elsewhere.

“But it is worth doing and to walk away, I believe, would be wrong.”

The broadcasting boss, who served as a priest for eight years, came under attack during a grilling from the Oireachtas Communications Committee.

He vehemently denied accusations that he was a spin doctor and also shot down a suggestion from Independent TD Mattie McGrath that he had been coached for the meeting, saying it was “a slur”.

Senator John Whelan launched an attack on Mr Savage, saying he was “flabbergasted” by his claims that RTÉ staff were also victims of the defamation scandal.

The Senator told Mr Savage to come down from his ivory tower and show some respect.

He accused Mr Savage of failing to take responsibility for the controversy.

“He is washing his hands of any responsibility for the systematic failures, low morale and poor standards, and the groupthink which is spawned by a cult of clique and cronyism, which you preside over,” Mr Whelan went on.

The Senator said Mr Savage’s position at the top of RTÉ was not tenable if the impartiality, integrity and independence of the broadcaster could not be restored.

RTÉ wrongly accused Fr Reynolds of raping a woman and fathering a child in Kenya in its 'Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey' programme, which aired last May.

A report compiled by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland last month found the broadcaster was guilty of editorial and control management failures.

RTÉ was fined €200,000 and the journalist who made the accusations, Aoife Kavanagh, resigned.

Fr Reynolds also received an undisclosed sum in compensation.

It also emerged that there are 11 defamation cases outstanding against RTÉ.

Meanwhile, Mr Savage extended his sympathies to Fr Reynolds over the controversy.

He said no one would have felt more anguish about the mistake than he did.

“If you spend eight years in the priesthood you know the only thing that sustains you is your spirituality, your pastoral care and your ethical standards,” Mr Savage went on.

“If those are taken away from you, you are left bereft and recovery even after you are exonerated is a long and difficult thing.”

RTÉ director general Noel Curran later insisted there will be no repeat of the incident.

He said while it is hard to make concrete guarantees in journalism, he believes the State broadcaster will not make the same mistakes again.

“When you go through the detail, what we’ve discovered ourselves, I believe if we get this right in terms of implementation of changes ... then we can minimise that risk,” said Mr Curran.

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