RTE fined over priest programme
RTE has been hit with a 200,000 euro fine over its defamatory Mission to Prey programme which libelled a Catholic missionary priest.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) investigation into the Prime Time Investigates programme found it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Fr Kevin Reynolds by wrongly accusing him of raping a minor and fathering a child while working in Kenya 30 years ago.
RTE admitted the defamation was one of the most significant errors made in its broadcasting history and that the material should never have been broadcast.
The state broadcaster has already pulled the award-winning production off air for good over the programme, which was aired on May 23 last year.
The inquiry into the Mission To Prey programme, carried out by former BBC controller in Northern Ireland Anna Carragher, criticised standards in the state broadcaster.
It found: The secret filming of the cleric and a doorstep interview was an unreasonable breach of his privacy; There was a significant failure of editorial and managerial controls within the organisation which failed to anticipate, monitor or control the possibility of such a breach; It also failed to recognise the grave injustice which could be done to Fr Reynolds.
It also found that note-taking was either non-existent, or grossly inadequate notes by the editorial team; An almost complete absence of documentary evidence; A lack of scrutiny and challenge with the department; A failure to question colleagues, with second-hand repetition of gossip treated as corroboration; RTE did not waive its claim to privilege in the solicitor/client relationship between itself and its in-house legal staff.
Fr Reynolds, who was not interviewed as part of the BAI investigation, offered to take a paternity test to prove his innocence before the current affairs programme was aired. He was later cleared when two tests proved he was not the child's father.
RTE apologised to the cleric, accepting all the allegations were baseless and without any foundation.
It also made an out-of-court settlement reported to be in the payout range of 750,000 euro (£619,000) up to five million euro (£4.1 million) after he took a libel action.