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The case of Fr Kevin Reynolds: the RTE blame game

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Fr Kevin Reynolds

In the absence of statutory regulation for the media the investigation into how RTE defamed Father Reynolds will be a typically ‘Irish’ affair and is unlikely to see any heads roll, writes Paul Allen.

When RTE’s flag-ship current affairs show Prime Time decided to investigate child abuse in the missions it must have felt like it was shooting fish in a barrel.

Indeed, with revelations of clerical abuse making headline news for well over a decade there was seemingly little need to assume Father Reynolds was innocent until proven guilty.

After all, as Malcom X said, “The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent.”

But as we know, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So when the media believes it is untouchable the biggest casualty is always going to be the truth.

While the Leveson Inquiry is intent on bursting the bubble of a corrupt tabloid media in the UK, don’t expect heads to role this side of the Irish Sea for RTE’s unforgiveable abuse of its position.

The inquiry into the Father Reynolds scandal is most likely going to be a typically ‘Irish’ exercise and simply brush the dirt under the carpet.

In fact, RTE had originally saw fit to investigate this mistake internally until, due to political pressure, the government rightly decided to ask the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to investigate.

Four years ago RTE was feeling the heat after the High Society documentary based on a book of the same name by Justine Delaney Wilson claimed the existence of a cocaine-using government minister.

This so-called ‘documentary’ focusing on cocaine use among Ireland’s middle class turned out to be more fiction than fact.

Following an internal report, RTÉ Authority Chairperson Mary Finan admitted the station did not sufficiently exercise its editorial controls when it came to the programme. However, she claimed the shortcomings were not endemic in RTÉ.

Unbelievably, Finan proudly said that 82pc of the programme’s content was verified by RTÉ. The question is what type of editorial policy regarding highly sensitive documentaries is happy to fact check only 82pc of the content? One that grossly defames the likes of Father Reynolds is presumably the answer.

While the likes of the Daily Mail and other British tabloids have journeyed from Fleet Street to embark on a mission to lower the standards of media in Ireland, it seems the state broadcaster has also lost the run of itself.

So while €2m has already been paid out as a result of this shameful incident, expect more money to be wasted in the pointless ‘investigation’ that will ultimately lead nowhere.

We all crib and groan about toothless tribunals and endless reports that rarely result in prosecutions, but we are all to blame.

The Iona Institute recently released research on what the public believes is the rate of abuse among priests. Remarkably, 70pc overestimate it, while 42pc believe that one-in-five priests is actually an abuser. There is even 5pc that think over 90pc of priests are abusers.

That type of culture resulted in RTE making such a gross misjudgment.

Indeed, why do you think interviewing politicians has become such a prized blood sport? Because the amount of people who think all politicians are corrupt is scary.

You see Irish people love nothing more than scapegoats. We blame the British, we blame the church, we blame Bertie Ahern — we blame anyone but ourselves.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s is right in his belief that there is an urgent need for a regulatory body to balance press freedom and the protection of the rights of individuals. However, he is grossly wrong to compare bishops being asked to immediately stand aside in the wake of clerical abuse reports and the slow reaction of RTE management to stand aside. The Archbishop should have kept a dignified silence and not try to draw comparisons between cases of clerical child abuse on one hand and the national broadcaster defaming someone due to poor editorial judgement on the other.

However, he is right that the only thing that can save Ireland’s media from itself and the invasion of the British tabloid is statutory regulation. Because with media hungrier than ever for readership and viewership figures they seem to have forgotten that what is of interest to the public is not always in the public’s interest.

It is that type of environment that has created low standards in RTE. But sadly, just like governments, people get the media they deserve.

Paul Allen is Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com.

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