More calls for RTÉ resignations over 'Prime Time' libel
THERE HAVE been further calls for the resignations of RTÉ’s top officials over the Prime Time programme which libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds.
Three members of the Oireachtas communications committee yesterday called on RTÉ chairman Tom Savage to resign, while two of them demanded that director general Noel Curran step down.
Fine Gael TD Tom Barry, Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Labour Senator John Whelan called for Mr Savage to resign, while Mr Barry and Mr McGrath suggested Mr Curran should also go over his handling of the affair since the Mission to Prey programme was broadcast in May 2011.
At the end of a heated three-hour session, Mr Savage criticised the “unfair and unevidenced” attack on his reputation.
He described a suggestion that he had been coached to give evidence by his wife Terry Prone as a slur on his family which was unworthy of the committee.
Earlier, Mr Whelan, a former journalist, said it was farcical that the chairman of RTÉ was washing his hands “for the systematic failures, low morale and poor standards, and the groupthink which is spawned by a cult of clique and cronyism which you preside over”.
He said journalists were subject to strict rules designed to avoid conflicts of interest, yet the most glaring conflict of interest concerned Mr Savage – a director of public relations firm The Communications Clinic, along with Ms Prone. “I can’t see how you can serve both sides of the argument,” he said.
When the controversy broke last year, RTÉ had said it would not be commenting until internal inquiries were completed, he said.
However, Mr Savage “broke ranks” and “got his retaliation in early” by giving a newspaper interview in which he placed the blame on now-retired RTÉ director of news and current affairs, Ed Mulhall, who was made to “carry the can”. Mr Mulhall is the most senior of five journalists to depart over the controversy.
Mr Savage’s position was not tenable if there was to be a chance for the independence and integrity of RTÉ to be restored, Mr Whelan said.
Mr Savage rejected Mr Whelan’s interpretation of his comments about Mr Mulhall, saying they were factually incorrect.
“You shafted him and hung him out to dry,” Mr Whelan interjected. He said Mr Savage had made a pre-emptive statement to the media while due process was under way and as a result Mr Mulhall “came a cropper”.
But Mr Savage said he had merely stated the facts, which were that Mr Mulhall had confirmed to the board that he ultimately had made the decision to broadcast the programme.
He said he himself was not simply a spin doctor or “political hack”. As someone who had spent eight years in the priesthood, no one felt more “vanquished” by the programme’s false allegation about Fr Reynolds than he did. He denied a clique was operating in RTÉ.
Responding to the allegation of a conflict of interest, Mr Savage said in his three and a half years as chairman not a single issue had cropped up which required him to absent himself from the board.
Mr Whelan insisted it was not tenable for the chairman to “play for the home team and the visiting team”. Mr Savage’s range of corporate clients was “another problem waiting to go wrong” in RTÉ, he claimed.
Mr Savage responded he did not interfere in day-to-day operations and there was no conflict of interest.After Mattie McGrath accused the chairman of receiving “PR spin” from his wife, Terry Prone, Mr Savage called on the Independent TD to withdraw the remark. Mr Whelan later apologised for his allegation about a clique after RTÉ’s managing director of radio, Clare Duignan, complained it was grossly unfair.
Mr Curran said it was his decision not to inform the board about Fr Reynolds’s legal challenge in July 2011, two months after the programme was broadcast. His role was not to “drip-feed” information to the board, he said, but to inform it when serious legal issues arose.
Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney said he was taken aback by the level of hostility of committee members towards RTÉ.
Fine Gael deputy Tom Barry said Mr Savage should take responsibility by stepping down. Mr Curran and the entire RTÉ board should consider their positions, he said.