RTÉ board to consider Prime Time reviews

THE results of two reports into the controversial RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme which defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds are due to be considered by the RTÉ Authority next week.

The RTÉ board is to meet on December 15 when it will hold a “full discussion” on both an internal review and an independent investigation conducted by Press Ombudsman John Horgan.

RTÉ was forced to pay a six-figure sum, believed to be well in excess of €1m, as a result of the programme on May 23, which falsely accused Fr Reynolds, the parish priest of Ahascragh, Co Galway, of raping a teenage girl, while working as a missionary in Kenya, and fathering her child.

However, any decision on the future of key personnel at the centre of the controversy is likely to be deferred until completion of a separate probe by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs, Ed Mulhall, and the editor of Prime Time, Ken O’Shea, voluntarily stepped aside pending the outcome of the various inquiries.

Reporter Aoife Kavanagh and the programme’s executive producer, Brian Páircéir, will not be involved in any on-air programming for the same duration.

The report by Prof Horgan is limited to examining RTÉ’s editorial procedures to prevent a similar defamation in the future.

It will not make any findings in relation to any individuals but instead will make general recommendations about the station’s internal controls.

RTÉ’s own review is confined to the origination, preparation and broadcast of the programme, but will not examine the station’s handling of the case following the broadcast, which has also been heavily criticised.

The BAI has confirmed it can impose a fine of up to €250,000 on RTÉ as a result of the Mission to Prey documentary. BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe said the organisation had the power under the Broadcasting Act 2009 to impose a financial sanction on any broadcaster which it had deemed was in breach of the legislation governing broadcast rules and codes.

The BAI’s compliance committee is due to appoint an investigating officer, likely to be a senior counsel, by the end of this week after an instruction issued by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to investigate the programme. The BAI can also decide to prosecute an alleged breach before the district or circuit court.

The BAI is scheduled to complete its inquiry within two months.

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