RTÉ could be fined €250,000 for libel

 

RTÉ COULD be fined up to €250,000 for the Prime Time Investigatesprogramme which libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has confirmed.

The authority’s chief executive, Michael O’Keeffe, said the authority has the powers under the Broadcasting Act (2009) of imposing a fine up to that amount if it found RTÉ’s treatment of Fr Reynolds was not fair, objective and impartial.

The authority’s compliance committee, which is chaired by Prof Chris Morash of NUI Maynooth, has been asked by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte to investigate the programme, which wrongly claimed that Fr Reynolds had raped a minor and fathered a child by her.

It is the first such investigation under Section 53 of the Broadcasting Act.

Mr O’Keeffe confirmed that an outsider to the compliance committee will chair the inquiry.

The identity of the person involved is likely to be made public this week.

Mr O’Keeffe said the investigation would not be the same as a tribunal of inquiry and will not be held in public.

He further pointed out that under the Act, an investigating officer is employed to investigate the programme for breaches of the code and not to look into any other issues.

The investigating officer will have the power to ask anybody involved in the programme who is an employee of RTÉ to give evidence.

He said it was likely that the results of the inquiry will be made public.

The investigating officer will make a report to the compliance committee who will then make a recommendation to the authority. It will then be up to the authority to decide if a fine should be imposed on RTÉ. Any fine can be appealed to the courts.

The compliance committee’s terms of reference will only include an investigation into the allegations made against Fr Reynolds in the Prime Time Investigatesprogramme which was broadcast on May 23rd.

RTÉ has already apologised to Fr Reynolds and paid an undisclosed sum in damages following an out-of-court settlement.

The decision to exclude an investigation into the case of the late Christian Brother Ger (GG) Dillon will disappoint his relatives who have been pressing for that case to be investigated too.

An allegation was broadcast in the documentary that Br Dillon had made sexual advances towards a student called Tyrone Selmon when the Christian Brother was a teacher in CBC Pretoria in South Africa nearly 30 years ago.

The family of Br Dillon says no similar allegation was made against him in nearly 60 years of teaching in South Africa and no corroborating information was provided to back up the allegation made by Mr Selmon.

Further details of the individual selected to undertake the investigation and the scope, terms of reference and timeline for the investigation will be published following the appointment of the investigating officer.