RTÉ's decision to broadcast 'Mission to Prey' was 'a case of hubris'

Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 01:00

MEDIA:THE KEY error in RTÉ’s decision to broadcast the Mission to Prey programme, which defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds, was “not fundamentally bad journalism, but a case of hubris . . . misguided arrogance and overconfidence”, a former director and producer with the state broadcaster has said.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School, Michael Heney, who has worked as a journalist for 43 years, said that the report commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) on the “debacle” was “a poor document”.

It had also been “terribly poorly reported in the media”, he claimed.

RTÉ was fined €200,000 following the authority’s report, which was published in May.

It found that the programme was unfair and a breach of Fr Kevin Reynolds’s privacy.

Former BBC Northern Ireland controller Anna Carragher also carried out an independent report into the programme.

The broadcast had falsely claimed that Fr Reynolds had sexually abused a young girl and fathered her child while a missionary in Kenya.

Mr Heney said the Carragher report was “really a non-report” in that the key element to be decided – whether RTÉ was in breach of the Broadcasting Act in two respects – had already been decided and conceded by RTÉ before work began on it.

“All the report had to do was fill in the blanks above – that is, why it happened, how could such a programme reach air?

He claimed it had “failed to give a fully accurate, or indeed, fully coherent view of how this disaster unfolded”.

The aftermath of the affair found RTÉ “at a watershed”.

“Today it is searching for the correct way to get over this car crash of an event.

Knowing exactly what just happened, and why it happened, is basic to formulating the next step. I do not believe Ms Carragher and the BAI compliance committee have helped greatly.”

He said there was a contradiction in RTÉ director general Noel Curran’s statement that he was committed to strong investigative programming and that a situation such as had occurred with Mission to Prey could not be allowed to happen again.

He said that risk was inherent in investigative programming. “There is only one way to ensure things can’t go seriously wrong, and that’s not to do it at all.”