22 August 2014

Reporter resigns as RTE fined over Primetime broadcast

18:30, Post Reporter

Journalist Aoife Kavanagh has resigned her position as a reporter and presenter with RTE in the wake of the publication of the conclusions of a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) investigation.

The BAI was investigating the Prime Time Investigates programme which wrongly accused Fr Kevin Reynolds of raping a girl and fathering her child while he was serving as a missionary priest in Africa in the 1980s. The BAI said this evening that it was fining RTE €200,000 due to the incorrect report.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Fr. Kevin Reynolds for the hurt caused to him by the Prime Time Investigates programme,” said Kavanagh in a statement issued on her behalf by the National Union of Journalists. “I would also like to apologise to those who work with victims of sexual abuse if this controversy has in any way made their work more difficult.”

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“While acknowledging that mistakes were made I believe that I acted objectively and in good faith throughout the making of the programme,” she said in the statement. “In this regard I do not accept many of the findings of the Investigating Officer in relation to the manner in which I carried out my work.

Finally I would like to sincerely thank all of those who have offered me their support over the past number of months.”

RTE has been fined €200,000 by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI)over the Prime Time Investigates programme which wrongly accused Fr Kevin Reynolds of raping a girl and fathering her child while he was serving as a missionary priest in Africa in the 1980s.

In its long-awaited conclusions , which was published today on its website,the BAI states that the programme “was not fair in that it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Father Reynolds that he had abused a teenage girl in Africa in the early 1980’s, that she had borne his child and that he had then abandoned her and the child”.

These allegations were broadcast in the face of denials and in circumstances where Father Reynolds had offered to take a paternity test, but despite this, RTÉ decided to broadcast the programme. Given the fact that Fr. Reynolds is an ordained priest, currently in ministry, the impact upon his reputation was particularly severe, according to the report.

The author of special report into the controversy for the BAI by investigating officer Anna Carragher, said she had “formed the view that there was a significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organization, which failed to anticipate, monitor or control the possibility of such a breach occurring and which failed to recognize the grave injustice which could be done to Father Reynolds and the reputational damage which could be done to RTE’s journalism”. In a detailed analysis of the run up to the programme, Carragher is critical of the Prime Time Investigates team, highlighting in particular the lack of any writtern records of much of its work on the programme and what she believed was insufficient efforts to back up key information. She also believes that the RTE legal department were not consulted early enough and that the station needs better procedures for getting senior staff to sign off on controversial programmes.

RTÉ accepted that its broadcast of seriously defamatory allegations against Fr. Reynolds gave rise to breaches of Sections 39(1)(b) and (e) of the Broadcasting Act and expressed its deep regret that this had happened. RTÉ accepted that there was no truth whatsoever in the allegations against Fr. Reynolds, and fully co-operated with the investigation, the BAI found.

In a statement, RTÉ said that it had formally accepted the findings of the BAI inquiry. It reiterated its determination “to ensure that the key actions and changes which have been introduced at RTÉ will mean that serious editorial errors, which in this case resulted in the grievous defamation of the innocent Fr Kevin Reynolds, will not be repeated.”

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It said that it had undertaken specific actions in response to ten separate, formal recommendations by the BAI’s investigating officer. In addition RTÉ said it was publishing an independent report commissioned from Professor John Horgan into the safety of editorial processes, and confirms it has adopted through Prof Horgan’s recommendations a number of measures additional to those specified in the BAI Report.

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“The findings announced by the BAI today, together with the report prepared for the Inquiry by Ms Anna Carragher, do not make easy reading for RTÉ. We are not proud of the picture presented in the findings,” said RTÉ director general Noel Curran. “However, we have learned from and we will continue to learn from these grave errors.”

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“A great deal has changed in recent months at RTÉ and more will change as we embed the new structures which have been introduced through our work to overcome this regrettable period in RTÉ’s history. We know we have fine people with great skills and that the way this programme was presented to our viewers was not representative of the excellence for which our journalists, producers and editors have been rightly praised,” he said.

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“With that knowledge, and with the commitment that I have seen in recent months within the organisation to work hard to regain the public trust that was lost as a result of this programme, I am confident that we can get past this difficult time,” Curran said.

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