RTÉ’s Kevin Bakhurst to leave for post at regulator Ofcom

Departure of news boss follows resignation of two television executives in July

Kevin Bakhurst, RTÉ’s departing deputy director-general, pictured in RTÉ’s television centre in January 2013. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times.

Kevin Bakhurst, RTÉ’s departing deputy director-general, pictured in RTÉ’s television centre in January 2013. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times.

 

RTÉ deputy director-general and managing director of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst is leaving the broadcaster to take up a role at the UK communications watchdog Ofcom.

He will depart RTÉ in October and become content group director at the regulator in London.

Mr Bakhurst joined RTÉ from the BBC in September 2012 to oversee its news and current affairs division and was appointed deputy director-general in early 2014.

He was regarded as the favourite to succeed Noel Curran when he stepped down as director-general, but was among those who lost out to the Discovery Networks Northern Europe managing director Dee Forbes, who took up the director-general role last month.

Glen Killane, the former managing director of RTÉ Television and another contender for the top job, left Montrose earlier in July to join telecoms group Eir as managing director of Eir TV and Eir Sport. RTÉ2 channel controller Bill Malone also departed the broadcaster last month to become director of programming at TV3 Group.

News and current affairs

Mr Bakhurst said he had spent “a wonderful four years” at RTÉ and that he was proud of its recent coverage of the general election and 1916 commemorations, as well as its investigative reporting and daily news coverage.

“It has been an absolute privilege to work for the national broadcaster during a time of change and renewal and I wish Dee Forbes and the whole organisation the very best for the years to come. I also wish the very best to the rest of Ireland’s vibrant media who play a crucial role during challenging times.”

Ms Forbes said Mr Bakhurst had led the news and current affairs division through a period of “immense change and development” and that his contribution, both inside the newsroom and beyond, had been significant.

In a note to RTÉ employees, the director-general said the broadcaster was “setting out on a renewed journey” in which “a combination of new and existing leaders”, together with staff, would “shape and define” its future.

“Change can be disconcerting, but ultimately I have always believed that change is good; with it, we challenge ourselves, our thinking and our ways of working,” she wrote.

Mr Bakhurst, from Barnet in north London, was one of the international candidates who applied for the RTÉ news and current affairs role in 2012 following the retirement of Ed Mulhall.

At the time, the division was suffering from low morale and a loss of its reputation following two scandals in 2011 - the Mission to Prey programme that libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds and the “Tweetgate” incident on Frontline during that year’s presidential election campaign.

Mr Bakhurst had previously served as deputy head of the BBC Newsroom and was the controller of the BBC News Channel, having edited the BBC News at Ten bulletin earlier in his career.

At Ofcom, which is led by chief executive Sharon White, he will oversee media and content policy at a time when the organisation is set to add regulation of his former employer, the BBC, to its remit. Mr Bakhurst said he was joining Ofcom “at an exciting time”.

Investigative journalism

During his time at RTÉ, he was charged with restoring faith in its investigative journalism. He oversaw the development of a new unit that produced investigations into the charity sector, mistreatment in creches and abuse in care homes. He also extended RTÉ’s digital news output and regularly represented RTÉ in public in his capacity as deputy director-general.

In 2014, as Mr Curran called for a relaxation of Ireland’s defamation law, Mr Bakhurst said its restrictiveness did “have an impact round the edges” on RTÉ’s news and current affairs coverage, noting that there was “a danger to robust public debate”.