RTE News and the Kevin Reynolds Libel Case

 Posted by on November 23, 2011  Add comments
Nov 232011
 

Remind me again how much RTÉ gets in licence fees.  I think it’s about €200 million, give or take, in addition to another €100 million or so from advertising.  A €300 million budget to run a broadcasting service for a tiny nation.

What do we get for that?  Well, of course, we get Fair City, and we get a lot of RTÉ executives’ friends and neighbours sitting around in the afternoon talking about their dinners.  We get their neighbours’ young children doing voice-overs on ads and we get their neighbours’ older children plugging their bands on the Late Late Show.  We also get an ignorant, right-wing lout shouting at us for an hour and a bit just after lunch every day.

In addition, we get some thoughtful analysis and high-quality current-affairs programming.  We get a reasonable amount of investigative reporting and we get Pat, whatever his faults, the Plank Kenny, who at least has read his brief and knows what he’s talking about when he interviews somebody.  In fairness to RTÉ , they have made governments and churches squirm under the spotlight of public exposure, although they have also cowered under the ministerial whip from time to time.

Now, I’m not a suspicious-minded man, but if I happened to be of such a persuasion, I’d be seeing conspiracies everywhere in the Kevin Reynolds debacle.  In the midst of the gravest crisis ever to face the nation, at a time when any government must take the most unpopular decisions, RTÉ staff conspired, whether they knew it or not, to hand the government a great big stick with which to beat investigative journalists into submission.

What on earth were they thinking?  RTÉ has a budget of €300 million and access to the best legal minds in the country.  I have a budget of zero and access to Gonad the Ballbearian.  Yet, even I know that it would be madness to publish the sort of accusations that RTÉ levelled against Kevin Reynolds.

Despite the fact that the man offered to do a DNA test in order to disprove the allegation, they went ahead and broadcast the programmme, Mission to Prey, which falsely claimed that he had raped a Kenyan woman and fathered a child.  Even the alleged rape victim told RTÉ that Reynolds was not the child’s father.  The result was inevitable.  After the broadcast, Reynolds took proceedings to clear his name, as he was fully entitled to do, and secured substantial damages, paid for out of our licence money,.  He was right.  I’d do the same in his shoes.

Were they completely stupid?  Did they not know what a DNA test is?  For this idiocy alone they should all be fired.

What’s worse is the fact that RTE is now the subject of two investigations — one by the Broadcasting Authority and another internally in RTÉ.  Ed Mulhall, managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs, has been taken off active duty while the inquiry proceeds, as have Ken O’Shea, editor of Prime Time Investigates, Aoife Kavanagh, the reporter and  Brian Páircéir, executive producer.  The programme has been suspended.

Whatever the outcome of the investigations, I suspect the internal one will be far more severe than the external, in order to protect those at the administrative levels of the organisation.  This is always the case in public bodies which have professionals at the front end and administrators at the top.  More importantly, this is a gift to a government wishing to have a compliant media in times where public unrest is only one budget cut away.

By its utter stupidity and lack of professionalism, RTÉ has damaged public service broadcasting in Ireland for years to come.

  30 Responses to “RTE News and the Kevin Reynolds Libel Case”

Comments (30)
  1.  

    I remember watching that programme, it was very convincing, I always believed that if there had been so much abuse in Ireland then it must have been wild elsewhere. So the presentation they made fitted what I wanted to hear. It’s unbelievable that they decided to broadcast it without doing the paternity test offered by Kevin Reynolds.

    The nepotism in RTE is worse than the BBC and thats going some. Who exactly is Donal Skehan related to

  2.  

    As much as I despise badly researched reports, arrogance and ignorance of a journalistic wanna-be-elite and most of RTE as such, and certainly defamation of anyone…

    …I wonder how a priest can demand money for an insult he received public apologies for (so his reputation is restored).

    It’s not that he has to suffer financial hardship because of that. Everyone feels sorry for him and he certainly isn’t out of a job or a pension or a secure future.
    But still he sues for money and get’s an “undisclosed” (that is substantial) compensation.
    “As a priest” I mean that he officially isn’t supposed to be after riches.
    What is he doing with all that money? Going on holiday in Kenia?

    In his shoes (and I’m not even in the least religious) I’d be happy to get an official and very public apology and see some heads roll. Simple satisfaction.

    But then I never understood the excessive financial compensation culture in especially anglophone countries, where everything is valued in money.

  3.  

    That’s a very interesting point. If he received a complete apology and retraction, why did he need money as well?

    On the other hand, this is the normal way to deal with a defamation case, so he can hardly be accused of stepping outside the ordinary.

  4.  

    This whole thing is truly bizarre. But then again, Prime Time Investigates has hardly covered itself in glory in recent years so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Its hatchet jobs on Limerick seemed designed to boost ratings (and therefore advertising revenue) more than anything else. Another one that springs to mind was when they did an investigation of a nursing home earlier this year. They blurred out the faces of the white workers in the home, but didn’t do the same with the black workers. The investigation on taxi drivers was little more than an incitement to hatred too. I would not be surprised if the brief given to the producers and journalists was to be as sensationalist and populist as possible.

  5.  

    Watching the programme, I was struck by the priests openness, and readiness to answer straight forwardly the question/accusation put to him. This in itself should maybe have set off an alarm bell with the journalist, but to ignore the offer of a paternity test, god knows what they were thinking. On the defamed getting money, its called punitive damages isn’t it, and would teach them a lesson, er, only its our money in this case. In any case, he’s probably had a very stressful year or so, an apology doesn’t change that, so I wouldn’t begrudge him a few bob. He may well give some or all of it to charity anyway, who knows.

  6.  

    I agree completely with Carrig word for word, however, if Reynolds donates or intends to donate the money to charity he has every right to go for the fucking throat.

  7.  

    What really gets me, what really gets me, is that RTE was so eager to dive headfirst into the concrete on this story, and yet could not be more indolent and timid when it comes to investigative journalism towards banks, developers and former politicians. They wouldn’t even name John Ronan on the Nama programme, let alone actually seriously uncover exactly what he and all the other former developers are getting up to inside the Treasury Building. And yet hopped onto this story without a care in the world.

    It’s infuriating rally. Maybe the people at RTE are really just not very intelligent; more concerned with last nights episode of Lost than with actually doing their job.

  8.  

    It is pretty standard procedure for priests et al in these third world countries to have sexual liaisons with the locals,rightly or wrongly.[Mod edit: deleted]

  9.  

    How unfair to generalize that just because some priests “do it” that all must…I have known many priests in my life who took their vows seriously(whether we agree with them or not) and truly believed in their mission. I think he was justified to do this, his reputation will never be the same, apology or not….many will still look at him and wonder…A man’s reputation is priceless, priest or not…..

  10.  

    Mad Dog — Your comment was edited to remove a potentially defamatory statement. Please think carefully before making unproven assertions.

  11.  

    As I recall, the apology from RTE was a pretty watery, half hearted one. I think Father Reynolds was absolutely justified in going all the way with it. He seems to be a decent human being, and one hopes that he would put the damages to some charitable use.

    In its early days I was a fan of Prime Time Investigates but over time I have been increasingly frustrated, and even disgusted on occasions, with the degeneration of the reporting, not least the ultra-negative spotlight on Limerick. I find myself continually drawing comparisons between the calibre of the Irish media with that in other countries. While we certainly don’t have the worst, it is disappointing to see how much the standard has dropped here in recent years. Sensationalist headlines, pandering to populist agendas and a lack of integrity sadly seem to be the order of the day. Bottom line in the case: Prime Time Investigates chose to park professionalism and set about assassinating a person’s character in the service of tawdry tabloidism. It’s very disappointing.

  12.  

    Shame on RTE.

    This poor man’s reputation is ruined. Details are already out there, right of reply refused, DNA sampling refused, opportunistic door stepping at a communion rite. and all on prime time TV.

    A wrong done.

    However much I feel for this poor man, I am incensed at the deliberate conflation between a miscarriage of justice & a possible re-write of, “ one in 4 “ and other victim’s reality.

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2011/11/rte-v-fr-kevin-reynold-who-was-doing-the-preying/

    This was the top Google search result on “mission to prey” a couple of days back.

    from the association of catholic priests.

    Some quotes.

    “what kind of light does it throw on other PrimeTime Investigates programmes, including States of Fear (1999) and Cardinal Sins (2002).”

    Presented without a shred of evidence to the contrary.

    “The present rabidly anti-clerical climate”

    Rabidly?

    Also, the overly zealous Pat Rabbitte statement and Enda Kenny’s faux everyman, making political gain from a man’s misery.

    Shame on them too.

    I live in a rotten place – rotten to the core.

  13.  

    It throws no light at all on States of Fear. That programme was factual, while this one was not. RTE has offered an open goal to the people who would defend real abusers, but fortunately their abuse was exposed by properly-constituted inquiries like the Ryan and Murphy commissions. Since those inquiries were independent, it’s irrelevant how incompetent RTE might be. Clerical-abuse apologists will always be with us and they will always use whatever excuse they can find, however flimsy.

  14.  

    Maybe there is an attitude among journos in RTE which says that priests are fair game. Chassez les pretres refractoires was a 19th century theme in the public life of France after the revolution of 1789. Maybe that general attitude blinded editorial staff to the legal and moral hazards of the particular programme. But such matters, I hope, will be probed by those who are given the task of investigating the circumstances that led to the broadcasting of this nasty and ill-judged programme. I hope Fr. Reynolds will donate some of the money award to third world charities.

  15.  

    It causes a big problem for future investigative journalism, not because oither programmes are flawed but because other producers will be afraid to probe too much for fear of litigation. That’s the real scandal of this journalistic debacle.

    Everyone associated with it should rightly be tainted professionally. This programme was a disgrace and so were the people who called themselves journalists. It seems to me that the RTE ego took over everything else, but of course, you’ll find that when a disproportionate amount of money is channelled to a broadcaster in such a small country. Its employees inevitably tend to believe they’re something special.

  16.  

    Just for a bit of “fun” why didn’t RTE play the church game and deny ever doing anything. Then they could have blustered in the face of overpowering evidence, threatened legal action, told their veiwers how upset they were and how they were praying for the man. Then they could have come to an arrangement with the government whereby any compo would be paid by the taxpayer (yeah, I know, no need to say it…).
    Deny, deny, deny. No matter the evidence.
    I know the innocent would suffer but maybe he forced them to do it…

    Nah. Couldn’t happen. This is the real world, after all.

  17.  

    Snookertony, Often the real world,’s more frightening than the other one, for those who see it….n’est pas?

  18.  

    As bad as this case might be for RTE, I’m more worried by the increasing levels of direct, commercial sponsorship of its programming, including its news and current affairs. For example, RTE Radio 1’s evening news programme, Drivetime, is sponsored by HSBC Bank. I discovered that a few months back when Philip Boucher-Hayes announced it before his interview with, yes, the CEO of same bank. Some of RTE’s other output is unwatchable/unlistenable for the amount of plugging and promotion that punctuates every utterance. And that’s without the long ad breaks!

    This is the problem of a mixed broadcasting model like RTE’s. Perhaps it’s time it made its mind up whether it wants to continue as a public service broadcaster, funded by the license payer and independent of vested interests, or if it wants to go totally commercial; in which case it doesn’t have to pretend anymore.

  19.  

    Public service broadcasting, which exists in the USA only in a limited and donation-funded manner, is an important issue that deserves an article and thread of its own.

    What worries me about a small society like Ireland is that we are media-saturated. Our little tiny world seems to be ‘mediated’ for us by a handful of presenters and programme producers who fly like birds of a feather. The national newspapers also have a certain sameness about them.

  20.  

    Bock
    You have named “Ed Mulhall, managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs, has been taken off active duty while the inquiry proceeds, as have Ken O’Shea, editor of Prime Time Investigates, Aoife Kavanagh, the reporter and Brian Páircéir, executive producer”.
    You have not named anyone in or even suggested the legal department, nor has anyone else in the mails above. Did they perhaps see a big chance for their “friends and neighbours” to benefit from the inevitable legal procedures in these straightened times? Or are they just stupid?

  21.  

    I think that kind of speculation would stretch the credultiy of RTE’s most hardened critics.

  22.  

    I just don’t understand what is wrong with people getting all hot & bothered about a priest that is now a millionaire when bankers & developers like Fitzpatrick, Fingelton, Dunne & their friends brought this country to it’s knees and are personally responsible for the suffering of each person in this country today, yet they still live high lives & have never suffered a minute due to their irresponsible actions over a number of years. For one mistake RTE made the country is gone insane although they did apologise & the priest was awarded over €1 million in compensation. Yet 4 individuals in RTE plus their families are all now suffering as a result of this mistake that has been apologised for & compensated. Isn’t forgiveness top of the preaching in Catholic religion???? Why isn’t this priest now calling for forgivness on 4 employees who are currently being treated very unfairly when in fact it is the organisation who is at fault. I cannot afford to put new shoes on my children this winter because my husband is out of work & we struggle every month to pay our mortgage for a house that is now half the worth of what we paid for it…. I would much prefer if the journalists and politicans would spend their efforts ensuring the people responsible for this major injustice are put behind bars.

  23.  

    I don’t know anything about Kevin Reynolds.However,I do know that it is very common for priests,members of religious orders and indeed lay charity staff to sexually abuse vulnerable people in third world countries.RTE staff are well aware of this.The allegation against this particular priest was shown to be wrong.The full details of abuse,not just by priests,will probably never be known.

  24.  

    Mad dog, it is precisely that attitude that gave RTE the hubris to air a programme that defamed an innocent man. The fact that some priests have abused does not mean that all have abused. The fact that vulnerable people in the developing world have been abused by those who purported to help them does not mean, obviously, that all do. There can be no justification for what RTE did. We can all agree that sexual abuse of children is horrific, and that the Catholic Church should have done more to prevent it. However, we all become accessories to the evils in society if we engage in rationalizations to the effect that it is OK to destroy someone’s hard-earned reputation by accusing them of among the most horrible acts. We perpetuate evil in our midst when we say that one group’s victimization justifies the victimization of others. That evil manifests in many ways, including sexual abuse of children and other horribles. The evidence is overwhelming that RTE was well aware that the story it ran was probably not true. They took a calculated risk that the public outcry against priests and abuse would shield them from the consequences of their actions, that a cleric would fall into the stereotype of being too timid to fight back. RTE is no different than priests that would abuse and bishops who would cover it up. They are arrogant, hubristic people who believe themselves to be above the law, and who see innocent third parties as justifiable “collateral damage,” pawns they exploit to gain advantage. RTE convicted Kevin Reynolds before it began any investigation. Once confronted by evidence and important information to the contrary, and easy means (through DNA) to ascertain the truth, panic set in. A calculated decision was made to rush the story to broadcast, to garner a strong ratings coup, before the exculpatory evidence could be brought to the fore. People in positions of power often do that. How sad. RTE’s currency is the public’s trust that they will bring journalistic integrity to their endeavors so as to truthfully convey information for the public benefit. They exploited that trust. Their currency has been devalued, casting a pall on all journalists. That is no different from some Catholic priests and bishops who betrayed a similar trust, casting a pall on all other bishops and priests, and devaluing their currency of faith, truth, charity and the like. Where are the virtuous? Where do we find them? How do we re-build trust in a society where even the most trusted institutions regularly fail us and deceive us?

  25.  

    I couldn’t disagree with a single word of that. You’re absolutely correct in everything you say and I’m tempted to make this comment a full-blown post on the site, with your permission.

    Whatever about the obvious failings of the institutional Catholic church, this man was right to fight his case and I wish him well.

  26.  

    Permission granted.

  27.  

    I’ll be in contact.

  28.  

    Strange to see that the system can provide the victim of defamation in this case, with unsurpassed speed, a day in court, an unreserved apology, and a new house with a heated swimming pool. Not to mention blanket coverage by journalists with integrity. Buckets of it.

    Victim of clerical abuse(rape/molestation/physical torture of a child) receives(maybe)a day in court, sometime in the next century, a platitudinal utterance that doubles as a blanket apology with no admission of liabilty, and a compensation payout funded by the taxpayer on behalf of the vatican who managed to somehow convince the state that it had/has no money and signed a legal & binding agreement with the state to same effect.

    Oh yes, I forgot, that last part about victim compensation is still TBA. Sorry guys, but the state is still trying to get the Vatican to come on board…we’ll let you know…soon. We’re kinda hoping you die before we finally get to you.Why? I hear you say, well your case dies with you. Very sorry about that.

    Never read much about that in the papers, never seen that line followed up with any great enthusiasm. Journalistic integrity was in the toilet long before Fr. Reynolds came along. If your story is not worthy of a soundbite that hasn’t already been heard it aint worth going to print. Theres your fucking maxim on journalistic integrity.

    One priest gets it in the neck and the whole country wants to talk about journalistic integrity. My fucking arse, what a croc.

  29.  

    So it can’t be proven what this priest was accused of.However we know what he didn’t do.He didn’t blow the whistle on any of his fellow travellers.I find it hard to believe he spent all those years in the missions with his eyes and ears closed.The dogs on the street knew and know what was done to many kids under the influence of these missionaries.
    I hold all priests equally culpable because of their lack of action in outing these abusers. His aquittal is legally correct but the overall circumstances are morally questionable.

  30.  

    Mad dog, don’t forget that age old and supremely popular insurance underwriters and/or Vatican lawyers version of a wet dream. We all know it as the “seal of the confessional”. Can also be referred to as a “get out of jail free card”,or perhaps one of those state secrets, where if they tell you, they have to kill you, well they might not kill you, but they might put you down on the list to smoke a turd in purgatory for that one, as Mr Williams said.

    What it really is, and what nobody seems to want to say it is, especially journalists with integrity, is that it never was, nor could it be, anything other than a form of blanket immunity designed specifically to insulate transgressors whilst at the same time effectively silence those who might otherwise have blown that whistle. What an ingenious little mechanism, created surely by some of cleverest bastards ever to have graced the face of this earth. I mean you really have to give credit where its due.

    I myself received all the sacraments, the holy water on the noggin, followed by the snackfest otherwise referred to as the body and blood, and topped of with my personal favourite, confirmation. Yes, thats where you get the box seats to the whole show, and what a show its been. The dogs bollocks of ratings winners. Still waiting though for the gift of insidious and malignant insight, they seem to have given it out at the top end, the bishops generally seem to have cornered the Futures market on that commodity.

    Its no excuse, as you correctly point out, but the oul Seal worked well enough to silence the opposition to such activity. After all the seal of the confessional is sacrosanct. Sacrosanct, mmmmm, has a lovely ring to it, kind of like the ring on an old cash register, that ring can be heard by all and sundry, thats everybody with the exception of the victims of clerical abuse.

    Journalists with integrity can’t be seen to report in detail on such matters. I mean who will save them a place at the front of the que with all the other holy rollers when it comes time to chow down on the body and blood.

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