Ex-chief's part in RTÉ libel case defended

Thu, Apr 5, 2012, 01:00

THE BROADCASTING Authority of Ireland has defended the involvement of its chairman, former RTÉ director general Bob Collins, in assessing the penalty to be imposed on the State broadcaster over the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel affair.

The authority also defended itself yesterday against criticism by Fr Reynolds’s solicitor, Robert Dore, who said the priest should have been contacted during the investigation ordered by the BAI into his libelling in a Prime Time Investigates programme.

A spokeswoman said Mr Collins was appointed as an independent chair of the regulator and would in his daily work have “all kinds of responsibilities” affecting RTÉ.

Mr Collins, who worked in RTÉ for 28 years and was director general for six years, wasn’t asked and did not offer to absent himself from the board discussion this week on the investigation ordered by the compliance committee of the authority into the Mission to Prey programme broadcast last May, she said.

The committee, which Mr Collins does not sit on, ordered an investigation into the programme and then formulated recommendations, but the board determined the penalty to be imposed, which could be up to €250,000.

The report of the investigation, which is being sent to RTÉ this week, is expected to find that the broadcaster was unfair and breached Fr Reynolds’s privacy in the programme, which wrongly accused him of raping a minor while working as a missionary priest in Kenya. RTÉ this week announced the retirement of head of news and current affairs Ed Mulhall and the resignation of current affairs editor Ken O’Shea as well as new journalism guidelines as part of its response to the affair.

Mr Dore said yesterday it was premature for RTÉ to take action now when the report was due shortly. He described as extraordinary that neither he nor Fr Reynolds was consulted during the compilation of the report. He has written to the authority and RTÉ asking for the report to be forwarded to him.

The BAI spokeswoman said the remit of its investigation under broadcasting legislation related to programming issues, though she conceded the compliance committee could have talked to Fr Reynolds if it deemed this necessary.

Mr Dore claimed the axing of the Prime Time Investigates programme, as announced by RTÉ director general Noel Curran this week, was cosmetic and questioned the need for a further investigation of personnel when several other inquiries had already taken place. Mr Curran said an external investigation board chaired by former senator Maurice Hayes would make recommendations about RTÉ personnel involved in the programme.

However, Mr Dore said he was very surprised that Aoife Kavanagh, the journalist involved in the story, and executive producer Brian Páircéir were not referred to in Mr Curran’s statement on Tuesday.

RTÉ says it will respond in full when the report is published.