So Anna Carragher (ex BBC NI) has completed her report for BAI on RTE’s Prime Time Investigates libel of Father Reynolds, and although not yet published, the Irish Times has a list of some the reports conclusions:
* Interviews with significant sources were not documented and there was an almost complete absence of documentary evidence.
* At all stages of the production of the programme, note taking was either nonexistent or grossly inadequate.
* There was a lack of scrutiny and challenge within the department which led the production team into a groupthink mentality, where they were convinced the “facts” verified their assumption.
* This mentality led them to interpret the offer made by Fr Reynolds to take a paternity test to definitively answer the allegation as “not genuine” and a tactic to derail the programme.
* There was an apparent failure to question colleagues who – according to the primary source – were well aware of the allegations.
There’s a fine line between fearlessness and recklessness; just as there is between complacency and complicity. Nothing was said for generations about this and other forms of child abuse for generations. It took Kevin Cullen and the Boston Globe to blow the gaffe in Ireland’s emigre community of south Boston.
Scape goating an innocent parish priest is certainly not in that class of journalism.
Yet Brendan O’Brien has noted, the problem here is that the bureaucracy will respond by putting less trust and power into the hands of journalists to get the truth – in all its competing forms out into the public domain.
It’s understandable that a publicly body like RTE wants to manage risk, especially when the cost of mistakes are so much higher for a public service broadcaster. But heightened risk aversion within one of the few institutions of Irish journalism with the capacity to hold power to account, is only likely to lead us back the way we came.
Speaking truth to power requires a mindful fearlessness that, to paraphrase the Confiteor, is capable of holding power to account both for the things it has done; and things it has failed to do. And sins of omission are much harder to spot never mind deal with than the Father Reynolds case.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty