A long and extensive apology proposed by journalist John Waters following comments made about him on The Saturday Night Show was “not acceptable” to RTÉ, the broadcaster said.
As the so-called Pantigate controversy continues, a solicitor for Mr Waters issued a statement saying that if the station had “acted appropriately and sensibly on day one, this current storm would never have arisen”.
It said the case could have been settled for a “fraction” of the final €40,000 paid to Mr Waters, and that RTÉ had rejected an initial proposal of an apology and a donation of €15,000 to the St Vincent De Paul charity.
However, the broadcaster last night said that it did not agree to this charity payment because it was attached to the apology proposed by Mr Waters, which was not acceptable.
It is understood the wording of the apology named Rory O’Neill — who performs as drag queen Panti Bliss — and required RTÉ to state that his comments about homophobia were “without foundation”.
RTÉ said it believed such an apology would discredit Mr O’Neill and was “unacceptable”, a statement said.
“Due consideration was given to the full range of RTÉ’s responsibilities as a public service broadcaster, in tandem with careful consideration of the legal advice,” the statement said.
A statement from Kevin Brophy, a solicitor acting for Mr Waters, said RTÉ initially proposed a right of reply “which was like asking my clients to prove they are not homophobic”.
He said Mr Waters “made several attempts to deal with the matter himself”, including a “lengthy telephone conversation” with the programme producer.
“In the course of this conversation, he discovered that, far from showing a willingness to vindicate his reputation, RTÉ had spent the previous two days conducting an internet trawl in a fruitless attempt to belatedly substantiate the allegation made by Mr O’Neill. They failed in these endeavours,” said Mr Brophy.
Mr Brophy said RTÉ’s response to the proposed donation to the Society of St Vincent De Paul was that they felt the figure should be €5,000. “My very strong advice was for John Waters to issue proceedings against RTÉ as I did not believe they were taking the matter seriously,” he said. “These negotiations were ongoing at a time when John Waters was being subjected to the most outrageous level of online abuse.”
Mr Brophy said he has acted for Mr Waters for many years and, in previous defamation cases, he has requested that settlements be passed on to charity.
“This is not a case of John Waters trying to silence the gay lobby or prevent freedom of speech,” said Mr Brophy.
“He was defamed. He continues to be defamed.”
RTÉ has argued that every avenue was explored before making the final settlement.
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