BAI 'dismayed' at information leak

Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 01:00

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has expressed its disappointment at the leaking of documents connected to its investigation into the Prime Time Investigates programme that libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds.

The BAI's report into the broadcast, which was carried out by former BBC Northern Ireland controller Anna Carragher, and a proposed fine of about €200,000 were sent to RTÉ and interested parties last week.

The report has not yet been published.

An article in today’s Irish Times detailed the main findings which were highly critical of the standards of journalism involved in the broadcast, citing briefing notes used in the preparation of the document.

In a statement, the BAI expressed its “dismay and deep disappointment” that information regarding its investigation had entered the public domain.

“The BAI will review the matter to seek to ascertain how such information was made available,” it said.

In a statement issued last night, RTÉ said it wished to "express its disappointment that this report has leaked in circumstances where it prejudices RTÉ’s response to the investigation, within an ongoing process, and prejudices the response of the programme makers as named individuals".

"If fair regulatory procedures are to apply, RTÉ and the production team must be allowed to make submissions to the BAI in response to the report, within the process. The leaking of the report has undermined that process."

Ms Carragher – who was commissioned by the authority to investigate breaches of broadcasting law – has concluded that the programme was unfair and a breach of Fr Reynold’s privacy.

The report’s findings are also heavily critical of the production team behind the programme.

Among its findings are that: 

* 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.

Therefore, it appeared that second-hand repetition of gossip was treated as corroboration.

Ms Carragher’s report was compiled for the broadcasting authority’s compliance committee.

The Prime Time Investigates reporter Aoife Kavanagh declined to comment last night. It is understood she is vigorously contesting the report’s findings.

An RTÉ spokesman said he was unable to comment on the findings as the station was still preparing its submission to the BAI. 

The Mission to Prey programme, broadcast last May, falsely accused Fr Reynolds of raping a minor and fathering a child by her while working as a missionary in Africa.

Fr Reynolds sued the broadcaster last year and later accepted an apology and substantial out-of-court settlement. It is believed to have cost RTÉ in the region of €1 million in legal fees and damages.

Overall, Ms Carragher’s report found there were significant failures of RTÉ’s editorial and managerial controls in advance of the broadcast.

This in turn led to a failure to anticipate or recognise the potential for grave injustice against Fr Reynolds and the reputational damage which could be done to RTÉ’s journalism.

In its own submission to Ms Carragher’s report, RTÉ accepted its broadcast was seriously defamatory and expressed its deep regret at what had happened.

Following consideration of Ms Carragher’s report, RTÉ documentation and other submissions, the BAI’s compliance committee has found the station “seriously breached” its duties under the broadcasting legislation relating to fairness and breach of privacy.

RTÉ has until April 19th to respond to the BAI.

If it says it is satisfied for the authority to deal with the matter, the BAI will then will issue a formal determination and decide what sanction should be imposed. Otherwise, the authority will be required to seek a determination in the courts.