RTÉ chairman will face fresh calls to quit at Oireachtas committee hearing

 

RTÉ CHAIRMAN Tom Savage will face renewed calls to step down when he reappears before an Oireachtas committee tomorrow.

Mr Savage and RTÉ’s director general Noel Curran were questioned by politicians over the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel affair when they appeared in front of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources last week.

The committee ran out of time to question both men and it will reconvene in the morning.

Labour Senator John Whelan said he would use the meeting to ask Mr Savage to resign because of his involvement with a public relations company, the Communications Clinic.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has already called for Mr Savage’s resignation, saying the Reynolds case was only one of a long list of blunders by the broadcaster.

Senator Whelan said he would be joining with Mr McGrath in calling for Mr Savage’s resignation. He described his evidence, given to the committee last week as “Pontius Pilate hand-wringing” and added: “How dare Mr Savage come before an elected committee of the Oireachtas and swat away our genuine and well-founded concerns with sheer contempt and disdain.”

The Communications Clinic’s link to the political classes was the “elephant in the room” and amounted to a conflict of interest, Mr Whelan maintained.

He said Mr Savage’s continued involvement in the company, which he runs with his wife Terry Prone, could be construed as being contrary to RTÉ’s new journalism guidelines in relation to conflict of interest and impartiality drawn up in the aftermath of the Prime Time Investigates libel case.

In a statement, RTÉ defended Mr Savage, saying he was appointed by the Government and had the qualifications for the position as outlined in the 2009 Broadcasting Act.

RTÉ also stated that Mr Savage had complied with the terms of the Broadcasting Act, which stipulates that all members of the authority must declare if there is any conflict of interests.

It pointed out the two previous chairpersons, Mary Finan and Fintan Drury, were also involved in the public relations business.

At last week’s hearing Mr Savage said he was still at a loss as to how the RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme had created the “gravest editorial crisis” probably in the history of RTÉ Television.

He told members of the committee he shared the anger of the public about what had happened, but RTÉ personnel “have learned the lessons of what has been this bitter experience”.

Committee chairman Andrew Doyle (FG) said the resumption would facilitate other members of the committee who were unable to question the two men last week.

He said the purpose of the committee hearings would be to find out how RTÉ would ensure that the “debacle” of the Fr Reynolds case could never be repeated.

“Our role in this process is to explore with both the BAI and RTÉ what it is that is going to change in relation to guidelines, codes and practice,” he said.

“I’ll probably have my hands full in keeping it to that.”

He said he was not sure that Senator Whelan’s line of questioning would “achieve the public and the committee’s desire to ensure that the right codes of practices are put in place”.

Mr Doyle also said he would have to check to see if standing orders allowed for a vote of confidence in Mr Savage. He added he was happy with the evidence given to the committee by both Mr Savage and Mr Curran last week.