Irish TV boss in hot water over notorious RTÉ documentary "Mission to Prey"
Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 at 09:02 AM
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Tom Savage, is facing a tabloid grilling in Ireland over his role as head of Dublin-based the Communication Clinic and that company's involvement in the broadcaster's ill-fated 'Mission to Prey' documentary.
The TV boss is now also facing increased pressure to explain how his leadership of the TV station does not pose a direct conflict of interest with his directorship at The Communication Clinic - a public relations outfit that has gained a reputation as the go-to PR firm for Irish politicians and political parties since its foundation in 2004.
The firm, which also specializes in political speechwriting and 'spin' control is owned by Savage and his wife, Terry Prone.
Prone is something of a celebrity in her own right: an outspoken Irish media commentator and television critic seldom off Irish airwaves, while the couple's son is a DJ for TodayFM.
At least one public representative, Independent TV Mattie McGrath, has called for Savage's resignation, calling his position within RTÉ 'untenable' in the wake of both the scandal and his role at the PR boutique.
A second appearance before the all-party Oireachtas Communications Committee brought another push for his ouster. A third showing for Savage is already on the cards.
More startling still, it has emerged that The Communication Clinic was engaged by The Irish Missionary Union (IMU) - a group representing Irish clergy - in the wake of the damning 'Mission to Prey' documentary in which RTÉ famously defamed priest Fr. Kevin Reynolds.
Savage has yet to respond.
Interestingly, it has emerged that a total of two training sessions, over the course of two days, were held with the spindoctors on the correct presumption that there would be a public backlash to the incriminating documentary.
Another director at the firm has alleged that client confidentiality would have meant that Savage would have known nothing of the training while the fracas at RTÉ was breaking out, but few seem convinced that this was the case.
A timeline by popular news website Broadsheet.ie sets out why it thinks that Savage would have known about the training at the Communications Clinic before the RTÉ show was even put on air - in essence, knowingly profiteering from RTÉ's defamation.
A letter published in the Irish Examiner by a former Senator, John Whelan, then echoed this belief.
The National Union of Journalists' (NUJ) Irish secretary, Séanmus Dooley, has described the close-knit relationship between the clerical body and the Communication Clinic as "deeply disturbing", adding that Savage needs to deal with the issue as a 'matter of urgency'.
However Savage - who oddly is himself a former priest - has remained adamant that no conflict of interest has occurred in the two and a half years which he has held the directorship of the RTÉ Board.
RTÉ was forced to pay out over €1m in damages last year after the Irish High Court ruled that it had groundlessly defamed Fr. Reynolds in its 'Mission to Prey' documentary. The station was also subsequently forced to broadcast an on-air apology.
The documentary reported that Reynolds had raped a girl while working as a missionary in Kenya and subsequently fathered an illegitimate child.
The scandal saw the programme's report, Aoife Kavanagh, fired from her job, while several other high-profile journalists within RTÉ were either moved to other departments or laid off.
While the whole episode does seem something like a media circus which will surely, in time, roll off, the calls for a system of mandatory registering of interests for key players within the Irish media industry could perhaps see the light of a day.
In an industry as self-regulated as the press, and in a country like Ireland, that could be a good thing.