Irish Broadcasting Authority report on RTE Libel Leaked, Finds RTE Unfair, Invasive of Privacy of Priest

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As we have written, RTE’s libel of Irish priest Father Kevin Reynolds last year prompted a libel payout, a few investigations into RTE, public apologies, and new guidelines, among other things. In the libel, RTE wrongly claimed that Father Reynolds raped and impregnated a minor-aged girl and rejected his denials and offer to take a paternity test.

Two investigations were completed — by Ireland’s press ombudsman John Horgan and RTE director general Noel Curran –late last year and a third investigation, by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, was sent to RTE earlier this month.  RTE is supposed to respond to the report by April 20.  After that, the BAI will announce if RTE will be fined for the report.

The document was leaked to the Irish Times this week though. The Broadcasting Authority is investigating how the report was leaked, according to the Irish Independent.

The broadcasting authority’s report was conducted by “former BBC Northern Ireland controller” Anna Cavanagh.

The Irish Times’ April 10 story revealed that Carragher’s report determined that “There was a significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within” RTE in this case.

Carragher also determined that RTE’s guidelines for undercover taping and “doorstep interviews” were “ambiguous” and that the reporter Aoife Kavanagh from the program wasn’t trained on “the particular issues surrounding the making of investigative journalism,” according to the Irish Times.  “Doorstep interviews” are when journalists try to make “an uninvited or unsolicited interview,” as we have previously written.

Irish news site The Journal reported that Kavanagh “stepped aside while the various inquiries” into the program are conducted.

Carragher noted that RTE didn’t bring in its “legal affairs department” to the story until “less than two weeks before” airing the report on Father Reynolds and that “the reporter was the sole point of contact between Father Reynolds’s solicitors and RTÉ.”

Carragher added that RTE failed to back up important information for the program.  Carragher is quoted by the Irish Times as writing:

“Standards of the production team on the ground . . . fell short of what should be expected with interviews with significant sources not documented and an almost complete absence of documentary evidence.”

Concerning Father Reynolds willingness to take a paternity test prior to airing the report to prove his innocence in the case, Carragher reportedly found “groupthink” led RTE to view Father Reynolds as trying to “derail” the RTE report with a “not genuine” move, according to the Irish Times.

Further, Carragher determined that RTE didn’t deeply investigate the claims and its sources.  She found “given the seriousness of the allegation, good journalistic practice would have been that a more detailed and objective examination of the claim and its provenance would have taken place,” according to the Irish Times.

In RTE’s own report on the leak, it noted that the Broadcaster Authority’s report concluded the broadcaster “was unfair, and breached the privacy of Fr Kevin Reynolds.”  Further, RTE added that the report still is unpublished and that it “will not comment on the Irish Times story” because it’s “inappropriate” to do so.

RTE’s corporate communications’ Kevin Dawson told the Independent that:

“RTE wishes to express its disappointment that this report has leaked in circumstances where it prejudices RTE’s response to the investigation, within an ongoing process, and prejudices the response of the programme makers as named individuals.”

Further, Dawson added that the leak “undermined” the regulatory process.

The Irish Times reported that “it is understood” that the RTE reporter Aoife Kavanagh “is vigorously contesting” the claims made in Carragher’s report. However, the Irish Times noted that Kavanagh “declined to comment.”

We have written to RTE and the Broadcasting Authority for comment and more information and will update with any response.

UPDATED: 4/12/2012 9:35 AM EST: Brian Furey from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland re-directed our inquiries to DHR Communications.  DHR’s Catherine Heaney sent iMediaEthics the below statement about the leak:

“The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (“BAI”) has expressed its dismay and deep disappointment that information regarding an ongoing BAI investigation has entered the public domain.

“The BAI will review the matter to seek to ascertain how such information was made available.

“The BAI also reiterated that the statutory investigation process is continuing and that RTÉ has until 20th April to respond to the notification issued by the BAI on Thursday last. The BAI will not, therefore, be commenting on the contents of any report or its correspondence with RTÉ.”

Heaney told iMediaEthics BAI’s inquiry into the leak is “on-going.”  Heaney told iMediaEthics that despite the leak, BAI’s planned process for handling the RTE case will proceed.

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Irish Broadcasting Authority report on RTE Libel Leaked, Finds RTE Unfair, Invasive of Privacy of Priest

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