Authority meets to consider libel inquiry request

Mon, Nov 28, 2011, 00:00

THE BROADCASTING Authority of Ireland is to meet this morning to consider Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s request that it inquire into the circumstances of RTÉ’s defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds.

However, a source close to the authority has said it was not a foregone conclusion that it could or would comply with the Minister’s request. Members of the authority intend taking legal advice on the matter.

“The feeling is not unanimous that we should rush in, but rather that we give this careful consideration,” the source said. “Section 53 [relevant section of the 2009 Broadcasting Act] has not been used before.”

Members have also queried whether the Minister or the Government can request that the authority hold such an inquiry.

“I’ve made my decision and I think after that, the legal framework takes over,” Mr Rabbitte said yesterday.

He added that the authority “has express legal powers in terms of the compliance committee to deal with this kind of matter. I think the most helpful thing I can contribute from here is to mind my own business and keep my mouth shut and let it proceed.”

Last Tuesday Mr Rabbitte said the programme had been discussed at a Cabinet meeting that day where it was decided “that there should be an independent inquiry to determine the true facts and circumstances which led to the Prime Timeprogramme on Fr Reynolds being broadcast on RTÉ in May of this year”.

He noted that the authority was the independent regulator responsible for the oversight of compliance in relation to broadcast content. It has a compliance committee which monitors and enforces compliance by broadcasters.

Mr Rabbitte said he had requested the authority’s committee use its powers under section 53 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 to determine whether RTÉ had met its statutory responsibilities around objectivity, impartiality and fairness.

He asked the committee to report and make any recommendations in respect of its findings to the authority. He said the committee will examine the programme and report within two months.

Members of the committee include Prof Chris Morash, NUI Maynooth; Aidine O’Reilly, managing director of Real Event Solutions; communications consultant Edel Hackett; and solicitor Paula Mullooly.

It also includes journalist John Waters; Paula Downey, a partner with Downey Youell Associates; Ciarán Kissane, head of contract awards at the authority; and Stephanie Comey, who had been director of the broadcasting funding scheme at the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.