All change at RTE over Prime Time

And there’s some movement on the situation at RTE, which has two major concurrent headaches going on at the moment:

A report to be published shortly by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is expected to find that the Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme, which libelled Fr Reynolds last year, was unfair and breached his privacy. The authority can impose a penalty of up to €250,000.

RTÉ, which didn’t defend the programme on either of these grounds, yesterday announced the setting up of an external investigation board, chaired by former Northern Ireland ombudsman Maurice Hayes, to make recommendations about RTÉ personnel involved in the programme.

The three-member board will make recommendations concerning both Mr Mulhall and Mr O’Shea, as well as Aoife Kavanagh, the reporter involved in the story, and the executive producer Brian Páircéir. Mr Mulhall has retired on a voluntary severance package currently available to RTÉ staff, while Mr O’Shea has been assigned a role in lifestyle and entertainment programmes at RTÉ 2.

RTÉ is aware of the main findings in the BAI report but has yet to receive the full document and notice of the proposed fine. Under broadcasting legislation, it could appeal an adverse finding to the High Court. A spokesman yesterday refused to rule out this course of action.

News of the personnel changes, along with new journalism guidelines and the creation of an editorial standards board, was delivered to staff in a message from director general Noel Curran.

The changes were prompted not only by the controversy over Mission to Prey, but also by criticism of RTÉ’s handling of last year’s Frontline debate between the presidential candidates. A complaint by one candidate, Seán Gallagher, about his treatment on the show was upheld by the BAI last month.

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  • For all the good work that RTE Prime Time Investigates has done, it has lost (and indeed should lose) the confidence of the Public. RTE Investigation teams and general news reporting has held many people to account. Many have rightly been sanctioned as a result. It is right and proper that when RTE misuses its undoubted power it should also be held to account.
    Outraged defenders of RTE and individuals involved will attempt to make it an attack on investigative journalism and press freedom itself….which is of course nonsense.

    Donnybrook 2012 is Wapping 2011. RTE has closed down one of its titles but we can look forward to a new better phoenix Prime Time Investigates.
    Some will get the sack. Some will stay on.

    Has RTE got an anti-Catholic agenda? Probably not. Mick Peelo for example has done many great programmes.
    But an interesting statistic from the Irish Census is that 84% of the people in the Republic of Ireland are “Catholic” ……..nobody is suggesting that jobs in RTE should be allocated in proportion to the general population but perhaps RTE (like its northern counterparts) have become too detached from Irish Society.

  • Mick Fealty

    For once, I agree with you FJH. But I would add that this response is hasty and inappropriately so. Blind-siding the complainant is pretty poor too.

    A properly conducted review, in the open that gets the underlying issues out in the open is critical. This seems driven more by fear of the mob (and a Twitter, rather than a blog mob), than just a felt need to get ahead of the crowd.

    I’m actually very pro RTE (its current affairs output on radio and TV is pound for pound as good as anything the Beeb does on a much smaller budget), and it seems to me that some of the criticism has been little short of hysterical.

    Shock horror, journos get things wrong sometimes. Without lessening the damage done in this particular case, Ireland needs a tough minded culture of journalism in a time when all forms of privately funded journalism is under an almost permanent squeeze..

    In this case the organisation may be ceding ground (and more importantly loping off a debate before it even gets started.