Irish public broadcaster RTE’s 2011 program “Mission to Prey” prompted a host of problems for the broadcaster — namely over the broadcaster’s claims that priest Father Kevin Reynolds raped and impregnated a minor-aged girl. As we have written, those claims were wrong. RTE aired a lengthy apology and retraction of the claims on two occasions, paid Father Reynolds a libel settlement, announced new journalism guidelines, and more. The Father Reynolds libel also prompted at least three investigations into RTE.
Claims against two other people in the “Mission to Prey” program also prompted questions, as we have written.
In one case, as we wrote last year, the family of deceased Brother Gerard Dillon challenged the RTE report. The family called for “either his name be cleared or that the single allegation made against him be proven.” (Brother Dillon was “accused of sexual abuse by former pupil” last year, who said the abuse “occurred in the 1980s when he was a child,” the Irish Examiner explained.)
Since the family’s initial questions of the report, there have been few updates. For example, in February, RTE’s senior press officer Carolyn Fisher told iMediaEthics there hadn’t been any updates in the Dillon family’s questions since the initial reports.
But, the Irish Independent reported in mid-April that the family’s complaint to the Irish Broadcasting Authority was “rejected” because the complaint wasn’t filed within the required “30 days after the ‘Prime Time Investigates'” airdate. According to Irish news site the Journal, a BAI spokesperson said the authority is “in correspondence with the family.”
We asked Catherine Heaney of DHR Communications on behalf of the BAI about the “rejected” complaint and the correspondence. She told iMediaEthics by e-mail that “The BAI Compliance Committee considered a request from the Dillon family and has responded to the family on that basis. Out of respect to the family and as a matter of policy the BAI does not comment on the contents of correspondence with individuals/potential complainants. I would clarify, however, that no broadcasting complaint was received or considered by the BAI.”
According to the Independent, “Amanda Dillon, a grandniece of Br Dillon, said the family didn’t know at the time that the BAI existed, or of the 30-day limit.”
In an interview with Newstalk, she called the 30-day limit “hugely frustrating for us.” She said: “We were caught completely by surprise by the program…We had no sense that that was going to come out in the program.” She said that the family had to get together and look into the claims before making a complaint. On looking into the allegations, she told Newstalk:
“We’ve had no solid evidence come back to us of you know how [RTE] managed to source this abuser, who has never made his allegation in the public domain ever before, nor to the school, nor to the brothers, nor to the police…how did they source that person? … On what basis did they feel that that single allegation of a single event which is open to all sorts of interpretation, that that could possibly be grounds to declare someone an abuser on national television, and somebody who’s not around to defend themselves.”
She added: “We’re still looking for answers…we don’t believe that allegation is true. And you know we want a thorough investigation into the research methodology behind that whole segment.”
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Dillon’s family has now appealed to Ireland’s Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte “asking him to force the BAI to probe how the abuse claims were investigated and allegedly verified by the RTE team,” the Irish Independent reported.
DHR Communications’ Heaney told iMediaEthics that outside of the BAI, “there are no explicit processes – involving BAI – open to the family beyond those provided for in the Broadcasting Act.”
According to the Independent, Rabbitte called for the the BAI’s investigation of the Father Kevin Reynolds libel. The Independent noted: “Although the programme was 52 minutes long, the BAI was only asked to investigate the four-minute segment focusing on Fr Reynolds.”
Archbishop Richard Burke
The Independent added that in the case of former Archbishop Richard Burke, anonymous “sources confirmed” there will be a defamation court case later this year.
In that case, as we wrote earlier this year, Burke claimed the RTE report libeled him by saying he sexually abused a minor-aged girl. Burke said that he did have a “consensual” relationship with the person in question, who he says was of legal age. The woman, however, said “she was 14.”
Father Kevin Reynolds case
We also asked Heaney of DHR Communications on behalf of the BAI about the Father Kevin Reynolds investigation, the investigation into the leak of the BAI report, and when or if the report will be published officially.
She told us that “the investigation is ongoing” and RTE’s response is “being considered by the BAI,” but “there is no defined timeline.” She added that “the publication of any report is a matter for the BAI to consider when the investigation process is complete” and that the BAI is “still dealing” with the leak of the report.
We have written to RTE for more information and will update with any response.