Blame game at RTÉ has some more culpable than others


ANALYSIS:Tom Savage seemed to be attempting to distance the board from the controversies

RTÉ IS paying a heavy price for mistakes made in the Prime Time Investigates programme which defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds, but the question remains as to whether the blame is being fairly apportioned.

So far, of the five journalists who were involved in, or signed off on, the Mission to Prey programme one has retired, one resigned, one moved to another job in London and two have been transferred to other duties.

Fr Reynolds has paid a heavy price for the false claim that he fathered a child while a missionary in Africa but has secured redress, however inadequate, via a substantial libel settlement from the courts.

After Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte last week called the RTÉ Authority to an 8am meeting yesterday, speculation was rife about heads rolling at the top of the organisation. This speculation wasn’t without justification; after all, RTÉ’s problems stem not only from mistakes in the programme but from the flawed response by managers to Fr Reynolds’s subsequent search for justice. In addition, this isn’t the only controversy to beset the State broadcaster, which was heavily criticised in the “tweetgate” controversy involving Seán Gallagher during the televised presidential debate and is in the throes of budget cutbacks.

Rabbitte, intentionally or not, had stoked up these expectations with his criticism of RTÉ after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland published a critical report on the programme last Friday.

Former Green Party leader John Gormley wasn’t the only one to see an element of orchestration in the Government’s initial reaction to the report by former BBC Northern Ireland executive Anna Carragher.

“Just watch how P Rabbitte uses the PT [Prime Time] debacle to get rid of [RTÉ chairman] Tom Savage,” he tweeted at the weekend.

In the event, the meeting turned out to be something of a damp squib. Resignations were neither offered nor sought.

Speaking to journalists afterwards, Savage sought to distance the board from the controversies surrounding the programme by saying it was concerned with policy and strategy and had no role in “micro-management” of programmes.

Yet it was Savage who appeared to pre-judge inquiries last November when he said that director of news and current affairs Ed Mulhall was the “ultimate court of judgment and appeal” in all decisions made in Prime Time. In the same interview, he effectively exonerated director general Noel Curran, who is also on the board.

Interviewed by Seán O’Rourke on the News at One yesterday, Savage blustered about denying that he had blamed Mulhall, who has since resigned, without explaining his extraordinary intervention.

Despite the fact that his office in RTÉ is only 200 metres from the radio studios, Savage was interviewed on a tinny phone line. One wonders what Rabbitte, who once described a Fianna Fáil minister as talking “like a monsignor down a bad phone line from Medjugorje”, made of it all.