Sweeping assumptions raise concerns

Sat, May 5, 2012, 01:00

What the report says

AOIFE KAVANAGH

(reporter on Prime Time Investigates - Mission to Prey) An experienced RTÉ journalist who had not previously reported for the programme.


● Second-hand repetition of gossip appears to have been treated as corroboration, as Ms Kavanagh did not appear to have met or questioned colleagues who according to the primary source, were aware of the allegations.


● The journalist’s “sweeping assumptions about the behaviour of various orders” raises concerns about her objectivity in approaching the programme.


● The report has “considerable concerns” about the lack of documentation during conversations on a research trip to Africa in January 2011.


● Ms Kavanagh should have “been a great dealmore rigorous in her exploration of her source’s credibility” and should have rigorously examined the “motivation and trustworthiness of the individual”.


● The report expresses “unease” with the tone of emails between Ms Kavanagh and the source, which “brooks no other view than that of culpability”.

● Ms Kavanagh’s conduct of the “doorstep” interview with Father Reynolds “raises some questions about compliance with guidelines in so far as shemade statements” to the priest “which assumed guilt”.


● In January 2011 during Ms Kavanagh’s research trip to Africa, details of the alleged rape in the 1980s of young a Kenyan girl who gave birth to a daughter, appeared confused with lack of clarity about her age and the extent of knowledge of her family about the claim.


● The report says it was “highly undesirable that the reporter was the sole point of contact between Father Reynolds’ solicitors and RTÉ”.


●A letter from the solicitors on the day of the programme’s transmission was not forwarded to the legal department and there was a possibility, though not definitive, of a different outcome had it been forwarded. The letter stated that a number of individuals in Kenya were prepared to testify that there were no allegations about Father Reynolds fathering a child. It also said the allegation was made by a person who bore ill-will to the priest.


KEN O’SHEA
(then editor, current affairs)
ED MULHALL,
(managing director news and current affairs)
BRIAN PÁIRCÉIR
(executive editor of Mission to Prey)
Are also mentioned in the report.


● Key editorial meetings between Brian Páircéir, current affairs editor Ken O’Shea and director of news and current affairs Ed Mulhall were not noted or minuted.


● Credibility of key sources was not sufficiently interrogated by the production team or editorial chain.


● First briefing of the legal affairs department in March 2011 by Mr Páircéir gave no evidence of specifics of Fr Reynolds’s case.


● Fr Reynolds’s solicitors sent a letter to Ms Kavanagh on May 11th, but the team took several days to draft a reply before it was sent to the legal teamand on May 16th the executive editor the programme sent a briefing note to legal affairs about the Fr Reynolds case.


● An email on May 19th from the solicitors of their intention to institute defamation proceedings was dismissed by Mr Páircéir and Mr Mulhall as “continuing reiteration of denials”.


● The legal affairs team confirmed the email from the solicitors that Fr Reynolds was prepared to do a paternity test was not sent to them.


● It was significant that Mr Mulhall was not at ameeting following receipt of the email at which the production team retained the belief that the offer of paternity test was not genuine.
At the time Mr Mulhall was monitoring coverage of President Obama’s visit but he agrees senior editorial figures including himself should have ensured the letter went straight to legal affairs.


● At all stages of the production, note-taking was non-existent or grossly inadequate.


● Lack of scrutiny and challenge and an over-reliance on subjective issues including the demeanour of individuals and the team’s past experience, led to a “group think” mentality and their interpretation that Fr Reynolds’s offer of a paternity test was not genuine.


● Weight was given to repetition of some allegations by individuals who were not personally questioned by the team.

Production Team Response

RTÉ’s legal affairs department was involved in the decision-making process in the Mission to Prey programme at all appropriate stages, according to the production team.

The team also said all issues informing the decision-making on the programme were not given appropriate weight in the report by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland investigating officer, former BBC Northern Ireland controller Anna Carragher.

Members of the team believed the unauthorised publication/leaking of documentation had prejudiced their rights, put into the public domain observations they wished to contest, and seriously undermined the entire process, causing damage to them.

They also said no request was made to interview RTÉ’s legal affairs department or the Kenyan journalist who provided services in respect of the programme.

Four of the programme makers, Aoife Kavanagh, Brian Páircéir, Ken O’Shea and Mark Lappin, made submissions to the broadcasting authority, which had provided them with a copy of the investigator’s report “in the interests of natural justice”.

The authority does not include their individual submissions in its statement of findings. However, it said that “collectively their submissions included issues” concerning the undermining of their rights and their belief that all issues on decision making were not given equal weight.

The authority also noted in their submission that the legal affairs department was involved in the decision-making process at all appropriate stages and that neither legal affairs nor the Kenyan journalist involved in the programme was interviewed. The authority said their submissions included “expressions of deep regret surrounding the circumstances which gave rise to the defamation of Fr Reynolds and the damage caused to him”.