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RTE News and the Kevin Reynolds Libel Case

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.