Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, second most senior Catholic Church leader in Ireland, has called for the independent regulation of media in the wake of the Father Kevin Reynolds’s defamation case on RTE television.
As public outrage and confrontation continued over the Prime Time Investigates program which wrongly said the 65-year-old priest had sex with a teenage girl in Kenya and fathered a child by her, three separate inquiries were launched to establish how such an inaccurate show was broadcast.
Separately, two senior RTE executives have stepped aside and two others, including reporter Aoife Kavanagh, have agreed not to go on air while the investigations are being carried.
RTE Director General Noel Curran offered to resign from his €250,000-a-year-post but the board “firmly rejected” the offer.
Tom Savage, the chairman of the RTE Authority, said that that Ed Mulhall, the managing director of news and current affairs, had the final say in running the discredited documentary on Reynolds.
Savage said Mulhall, who “makes decisions like this for breakfast,” was the person at the top of a chain of command that “agreed it was right to put through” the program called “A Mission to Prey” and it never went as far as Curran.
Savage revealed how a total of five people were involved in the decision-making process before the program went to air.
“Everyone is scratching their heads over this. If there was only one individual you could say stress, overworked, or whatever, but it wasn’t,” Savage said.
“Five people, including among them the most experienced of people who make decisions like they eat their breakfast, decided it.”
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Meanwhile, there have been calls for RTE to reveal what compensation was paid to Reynolds, now parish priest of Ahascragh. The amount was not revealed in court papers but it is believed to have been over €1,000,000.
Martin said that he was not trying to curb journalism, but to find ways that responsibility was guaranteed.
He told RTE radio that there may be an anti-Catholic bias on the part of some journalists, but he rejected any suggestion that there was an anti-Catholic bias in the media in general.
He heaped further pressure on RTE bosses over their handling of the Reynolds case by questioning the accountability of RTE managers.
He told the Irish Independent that in a similar situation, a bishop would be told to “voluntarily resign” rather than temporarily stand aside.
He said, “The level of accountability has to be questioned here. It took a long time before people came and held their hands up and said ‘look, we made a serious mistake here.
“There is an investigation going on to see exactly what happened but I imagine the journalist felt there were sources there and we will have to see whether or not the security checks were in place and properly adhered to.”
A group representing Catholic priests in Ireland, the Association of Catholic Priests, said they agreed with the archbishop’s conclusions that “in the question of media bias, not all media are tarred with the same brush in the way that priests have been.”