Friday, March 30, 2012

Inquiry into RTÉ programme to be made public soon

THE BROADCASTING watchdog’s major investigation into an RTÉ’s A Mission to Prey is expected to be made public next Monday.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) held a special meeting to begin consideration of the findings of investigating officer Anna Carragher into the Prime Time Investigates programme, which seriously defamed a Co Galway parish priest, Fr Kevin Reynolds.

Ms Carragher’s findings have already been accepted and approved by the authority’s compliance committee, which investigates alleged breaches of the Broadcasting Acts’ requirements for fairness, balance and objectivity.

The full board of the BAI will meet again next Monday, at which point it is expected to approve the release of what has been described as a very comprehensive report.

It is expected that its publication will have significant repercussions for the national broadcaster and its approach to investigations and current affairs coverage.

Key personnel associated with the broadcast – director of the news and current affairs division Ed Mulhall; head of current affairs Ken O’Shea; reporter Aoife Kavanagh; producer Brian Paircéir – have stepped aside pending the publication of the findings.

Director general Noel Curran has already put in train a number of investigations and reviews within the organisation arising from the programme and the controversies surrounding Frontline’s broadcast of the last live presidential debate.

A Mission to Prey, broadcast in May 2011, wrongly accused Fr Reynolds of statutory rape and also falsely alleged he had fathered a child and abandoned it. He has already been awarded substantial damages by RTÉ in the High Court. The broadcaster did not contest the claims made by Fr Reynolds in the proceedings.

Ms Carragher, a retired senior executive with the BBC in Northern Ireland, commenced the investigation in December 2011. 

Her terms of reference included inquiring into whether or not RTÉ had breached provisions of the Broadcasting Act upholding fairness, objectivity and impartiality; and protecting the individual from unreasonable encroachment of privacy.

Given the very extensive nature of the investigation, it is expected the report will be quite lengthy.

It will come after RTÉ has already been the subject of an adverse BAI finding in relation to the manner in which a “bogus tweet” was broadcast during Frontline’s final televised debate.

Last week, the BAI also upheld a complaint that the Pat Kenny radio show had lacked balance in its coverage of a biography of Bertie Ahern written by Irish Times journalist Colm Keena.