Rabbitte wants RTÉ report by next week

Wed, May 9, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR Communications Pat Rabbitte has given RTÉ a week to produce a report setting out the reforms it plans to introduce on foot of critical reports into the libelling of Father Kevin Reynolds in a Prime Time Investigates programme.

Mr Rabbitte has also instructed the State broadcaster to deliver quarterly progress reports on its implementation of the reforms recommended in a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) report published last week.

Speaking after meeting the RTÉ Authority for over two hours yesterday morning, the Minister said he did not expect any changes to be made to the board following the libelling of Fr Reynolds. He said no resignations had been sought or offered.

“I’m satisfied the board fully appreciates the seriousness of what happened, and offered no excuse for what happened,” he said. “The systems failed and it is acknowledged that the systems failed but there is a determination that this will never happen again.”

There was no discussion of resignations of board members, he said. This wasn’t the tenor of the meeting, which was to probe the reports forensically.

Mr Rabbitte said the aim now must be to re-establish public trust in RTÉ but added that the reputation built up by the broadcaster over the years was relevant. “This was 4½ minutes of a particular programme that did serious wrong to a citizen and it can’t be allowed to happen again, but the reputation of RTÉ in public affairs and news down the years has to stand for something.”

Mr Rabbitte said the first half of the meeting examined the timeline of events leading up to the programme and the system in place which allowed the “egregious” error to occur. The second half was devoted to the changes being put in place, most notably an oversight arrangement under which RTÉ will report to the Minister’s officials quarterly on their progress in implementing the recommendations of the Carragher and Horgan reports.

He said he expected the broadcaster to implement the recommendations in the two reports in full, although he accepted there could be some “nuances” to be ironed out.

Department officials are to discuss with RTÉ and the authority whether, in the light of their experience of this case, they think the 2009 Broadcasting Act is fit for purpose, he added.

The chairman of the RTÉ Authority, Tom Savage, promised RTÉ would implement all of the recommendations in the Carragher report within an agreed timeline.

He said the question of his resignation had never arisen. “That was never an issue within the board, it was never raised by board members with me and it was no part of the discussion that took place today.”

The board was accountable for policies and strategies within RTÉ, he said, but did not have responsibility for “one single egregious issue” or for “micro-management” of programmes.

Mr Rabbitte made no direct criticisms during the meeting but asked questions instead, he said.

The meeting ended on a positive note, with commitments given by RTÉ to the Minister on how it would deliver on all the items promised to restore public trust in the broadcaster.

In a statement issued last night, the board said its editorial and creative output committee would carry out a “thorough” review to assess the cultural and working environment at RTÉ in which editorial and creative decision-making takes place.

“If RTÉ news and content are to be recognised as of the highest standard, and if public trust is to be rebuilt, we need to look into the heart of what we do and how we do it,” Mr Savage said.

A Mission to Prey, which was broadcast in May 2011, defamed Fr Reynolds by alleging that he had fathered a child while serving as a missionary in Africa.

Mr Rabbitte subsequently asked the authority to investigate whether the programme had breached sections of the Broadcasting Act 2009 relating to fairness and privacy.


* Board chairman Tom Savage is a director of public relations firm The Communications Clinic, which he co-founded with his wife Terry Prone.

A former Catholic priest, he was the first editor of Morning Ireland and was communications adviser to former taoiseach Albert Reynolds. He has advised senior politicians for more than 35 years.

* Patricia Quinn is founder and chief executive of Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange and is a former executive director of the Arts Council and former cultural director of Temple Bar Properties.

* Karlin Lillington is a journalist and technology writer with The Irish Times who has contributed to a wide range of other publications including the Guardian, New Scientist and Wired.com.

* Filmmaker, writer and theatre director Alan Gilsenan is a former chairman of the Irish Film Institute and former board member of the Irish Film Board. His films include The Ghost of Roger Casement.

* Fergus Armstrong is a mediator and panel member of mediation group ONE-resolve and is former chairman of law firm McCann Fitzgerald.

* Seán O’Sullivan is founder and managing director of software consultancy Seabrook Research Ltd, and a former vice-chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

* Orlaith Carmody is a journalist and director of communications skills consultancy Mediatraining.ie. She is a former RTÉ newsroom reporter.

* Aileen O’Meara is an independent radio producer and journalist who writes for the Sunday Business Post. She previously worked for RTÉ, the Irish Press and Sunday Tribune.

* Qualified barrister Eunice O’Raw is director of legal affairs with the Health Service Executive, was a junior counsel at the Mahon tribunal, and has chaired mental health tribunals.

* Stuart Switzer is a television producer and managing director of Coco Television, and he was previously a principal of Switzer Co Financial Advisors.

* RTÉ director general Noel Curran previously served two terms as editor of current affairs at the broadcaster, and established Prime Time Investigates.

* Joe Little is RTÉ’s Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent and has been a journalist mainly with RTÉ since 1977.