RTÉ apologises for treatment of late broadcaster

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

RTÉ HAS formally apologised to the family of its former head of agriculture programmes, Joe Murray, who died last year.

In a letter to Mr Murray’s daughter, Tom Savage, the chairman of the RTÉ board, describes the station’s treatment of the late broadcaster as “surely as harrowing as it was bizarre”.

Mr Murray was disciplined by the station as a result of a report in February 1989 on the abuse of State export credit insurance on the Farm Diary programme, which he edited. The report claimed that a leading Irish meat company was involved in a fraud investigation in relation to the misrepresentation of the age and quality of meat being sold to Iraq.

Although the company was not named, RTÉ devoted several minutes of its main news programmes the following day to an abject apology, prompted by legal representations on behalf of Larry Goodman’s Anglo Irish Beef Processors.

The retraction stated that the allegations were “completely false and without any basis in fact” and “no irregularity of any kind . . . was carried out by the company in question”.

Mr Murray and reporter Pádraig Mannion were brought before an internal RTÉ disciplinary tribunal and found guilty of “unprofessional conduct”. Mr Murray’s very high reputation as the pioneer of agricultural broadcasting in Ireland was seriously damaged by the apology and by this finding.

In his letter, written explicitly on behalf of RTÉ to Mr Murray’s daughter Isobel, Mr Savage writes: “History shows that Joe Murray did pioneering work as one of the first journalists and programme makers to reveal malpractice in the beef industry.

“His work was accurate, impartial, objective and responsible. He acted in the public interest, without fear of favour. By contrast, RTÉ’s immediate retraction of the report and its expression of regret for ‘the damage that has been caused by the untrue statements broadcast’ must be seen as reflecting badly on this organisation.

“It is right and necessary to acknowledge that failure and its consequences for Joe.”

Mr Savage adds that “the experience of being called to account and penalised for acting in the public interest was surely as harrowing as it was bizarre” for Mr Murray. He expresses regret that “this apology comes too late for Joe to receive it in person” and hopes that it might nonetheless be accepted as “a sincere effort to do justice to his memory”.

Joe Murray’s daughter Isobel told The Irish Times yesterday that the family was “pleased” by RTÉ’s belated vindication of her father’s work and reputation.

“He was a very scrupulous journalist, a very diligent checker of facts and a very concerned supervisor of junior staff. This episode was a terrible blow to the values he held at his core as a principled journalist. He never spoke about it until he was close to his death, when we realised that it was very much on his mind.”

Labour TD Alex White, who was Mr Murray’s union representative in the disciplinary hearings, said his “sense of hurt and betrayal at the way he and Pádraig Mannion were treated was palpable, and justified”. He said RTÉ had now “acted honourably and properly in extending this posthumous apology”.