Defamation probe may see RTÉ heads roll

RESIGNATIONS in RTÉ are not being ruled out after the Government announced an investigation into the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds by the national broadcaster.

Director general Noel Curran said broadcasting the false allegations on the Prime Time Investigates programme, Mission to Prey, last May was “one of the gravest editorial mistakes” ever made by RTÉ.

He said the next series of Prime Time Investigates, due in December, has been suspended until internal reviews and a review by press ombudsman John Horgan are complete.

It has also emerged that the family of another missionary who was accused of abuse in the documentary is accusing RTÉ of unfairly targeting their relative.

The family told Fine Gael senator Michael Mullins that a formal complaint of sexual abuse was never made to Br Gerard Dillon’s order or school and civil authorities in South Africa never received a formal complaint of abuse from the man interviewed in the documentary.

Though he is editor-in- chief of the broadcaster, Mr Curran said last night he “wasn’t directly involved in the decisions that led to the broadcast”.

The Cabinet discussed the issue yesterday when they met for the first time since RTÉ reached a settlement last week for libelling Fr Reynolds, believed to be in excess of €1 million.

Following the meeting, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte ordered an investigation into whether the station had met its obligation to fairness.

Earlier, Fr Reynolds said the station’s bosses “have to face the consequences” of having defamed him when they falsely accused him of fathering an African child after abusing her mother.

Speaking to Shannonside Radio, he said he was “not out for anyone’s blood or for heads rolling or for people being sacked” but that his legal team had further questions to ask of RTÉ.

Asked on Six One news if heads would roll, Mr Curran said recommendations will be brought to the RTÉ board after December 15 when Mr Horgan completes his review. “I’d like to state clearly, nothing will be ruled out in those recommendations,” Mr Curran said.

A statement issued later read: “No conclusion has been ruled in or out by RTÉ in terms of final decisions which might be taken in this matter.”

A Government spokesperson said the inquiry was ordered because of “the general public disquiet” over the broadcast.

Mr Rabbitte ordered the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Compliance Committee to establish if RTÉ had met its statutory responsibilities around objectivity, impartiality and fairness.

It is the first time Government has ordered such an inquiry since 1969, when a tribunal was set up to examine a 7 Days programme by Bill O’Herlihy about illegal money lending.

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