Reporter's broadcasts in wake of libel finding 'unfair'

Sat, Nov 19, 2011, 00:00

THE CONTINUING presence of RTÉ reporter Aoife Kavanagh on the Morning Irelandradio show after it was found she had defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds is “unfair and unjust”, according to the head of the Irish Missionary Union.

Fr Eamon Aylward said RTÉ and the media in general were guilty of “double standards”.

Fr Reynolds, parish priest of Ahascragh, Co Galway, was forced to step down from his ministry over what turned out to be a false allegation on a Prime Timeprogramme that he had raped a minor while working as a missionary in Kenya and had fathered a child by her.

Fr Aylward noted that Kavanagh, who made the false claim on the programme, continued to broadcast on RTÉ’s flagship morning show even after the allegation was proven to be incorrect.

He maintained that if the same standards were expected of journalists as were expected of priests and bishops, those responsible for the broadcast would resign.

Fr Aylward also said there was now a doubt over allegations against another Irish missionary named in the Prime Time Mission to Prey programme.

The now-deceased Christian Brother GG Dillon was alleged in the programme to have abused a 12-year-old pupil at the CBC Pretoria, a school run by the order in South Africa.

The programme stated it was the first time the alleged victim had reported the abuse and he had never spoken about it before.

Fr Aylward said he felt for the family of Br Dillon, who was no longer alive to defend himself against the allegation, while the Christian Brothers had never been informed of an allegation against him. “This was the first time they had ever heard an allegation made against that brother,” he said.

“I’m not trying to say the man is innocent, I’m pointing out that no complaint was made against that brother before or after the programme was made.”

Fr Seán McDonagh, head of the Association of Catholic Priests, accused TV3 presenter Vincent Browne of double standards in suggesting Kavanagh was “one of the finest reporters in the country” and said had a bishop or a priest made such an error, Browne would have “hung him out to dry”.

On his Tonight with Vincent Browneprogramme this week, Browne said it would be “grossly unfair” to take it out on Kavanagh when the checks and balances were not present. “From what we hear there will be very little accountability in RTÉ for all of this,” he said

RTÉ presenter Pat Kenny said on his show yesterday that Kavanagh “professionally has been truly humiliated in all of this, too”.

RTÉ’s head of corporate communications Kevin Dawson confirmed the station had received a number of complaints in relation to the broadcast of the apology before Thursday night’s Prime Timeprogramme.

Fr Aylward said the apology was delivered in a “monotone and at speed” in a manner which suggested it was “not sincere”. Fr McDonagh said the apology was delivered with “bad grace”.

Mr Dawson responded by saying the statement was separately recorded and rebroadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Friday morning. “RTÉ intends that members of the public will have full opportunity to see and hear its apology to Fr Reynolds,” he added.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, which helps victims of child sex abuse, welcomed the vindication of Fr Reynolds.

She said the woman who had made the original allegation against him had done a disservice to victims.

She said Fr McDonagh was “absolutely right” to suggest abuse by priests got disproportionate coverage in the press and gave the public the impression clerical sex abuse was much more common than it actually was.