RTÉ given Reynolds report deadline

RTÉ given Reynolds report deadline

The board of RTÉ has been given one week to file a report on all steps it is taking to prevent a repeat of the defamatory 'Mission to Prey' programme.

Senior management at the State broadcaster have also been tied into writing monitoring reviews for Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte every three months.

The close scrutiny was agreed at a two-hour morning meeting between the minister and the 13 board members in Montrose amid the fallout from the Fr Kevin Reynolds affair.

RTÉ was fined €200,000 and reporter Aoife Kavanagh quit after a media watchdog found the 'Prime Time Investigates' show carried damaging and untrue allegations about the missionary priest by wrongly accusing him of raping a minor and fathering a child while working in Kenya 30 years ago.

“The Board is in no doubt that full implementation of all measures is necessary,” Mr Rabbitte said.

During the meeting, which was described as a frank exchange, no resignations from the board were offered or demanded, the minister said.

“I’m satisfied that the board fully appreciates the seriousness of what’s happened,” Mr Rabbitte said.

“The board attempted to offer no excuse for what happened. The board accepts that it ought not happen and that it did damage not just to the reputation of Fr Reynolds but also did damage to the reputation of RTÉ.

“There was no defence offered for what happened. The systems failed.”

During the meeting Mr Rabbitte said that the board reaffirmed that a grievous wrong had been done to Fr Reynolds and that RTÉ was gravely at fault.

The first detailed report from the RTÉ board will set out all steps being taken to address the serious systemic shortcomings exposed in the controversy.

The quarterly reports will measure how the new processes and arrangements are being embedded into the organisation as a whole, the minister said.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) report published last Friday evening criticised the secret filming of Fr Reynolds and the lack of note taking during research and production, and highlighted the significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organisation.

Fr Reynolds, who had threatened to sue before the 'Mission To Prey' programme was broadcast, was later cleared when two tests proved he was not the child’s father. The station made an out-of-court settlement with the priest, believed to be about €1m.

'Prime Time Investigates' was taken off-air for good in the aftermath of the defamation scandal.

Elsewhere in the broadcaster, head of news Ed Mulhall took early retirement while editor Ken O’Shea was moved in to a new role in RTE2. Producer Brian Pairceir was taken off air while Mark Lappin who also worked on the programme has left for a new post with CNN in London.

Mr Rabbitte said he was confident that the recommendations from investigations in the scandal would be implemented.

They include new rules that all communications from solicitors regarding content should be forwarded to the legal affairs department and a review of guidelines on both surreptitious filming and doorsteps.

Former BBC executive Anna Carragher was tasked by the BAI with investigating the documentary and she concluded that RTÉ had been unfair to Fr Reynolds and had breached his privacy.

It also warned of a so-called group-think mentality and lack of scrutiny; insufficient questioning of the primary source’s credibility; and the late involvement of the legal section in RTÉ.

Ms Kavanagh resigned on Friday night after the report was published but refused to accept all of its findings.

RTÉ has admitted that the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its broadcasting history and that the material should never have been broadcast.

The RTÉ board said in a statement it told the minister that RTE required as a priority to ensure it was self-aware and self-critical, while avoiding the errors of self-censorship.

“It said that an essential first step on that road will be a rigorous examination of the editorial culture,” it said.

Chairman Tom Savage said the view expressed by the board was: “Journalists and producers in all organisations have unspoken values and assumptions.

“If RTÉ news and content are to be recognised as of the highest standard, and if public trust is to be rebuilt, we need to look into the heart of what we do and how we do it.”

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