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RTÉ stands by its account of Panti events, says Waters’ apology was ‘unacceptable’

Solicitor Kevin Brophy claimed RTÉ’s version was “grossly misleading”, adding that Waters proposed the charitable donation.

Image: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Updated 1.49pm

THE SOLICITOR ACTING for John Waters has issued a statement to dispute RTÉ’s version of events following an interview with Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show.

He also revealed that he believed the settlement figure of €40,000 was “too low” and that his client was the first to propose a charitable donation as part-settlement.

O’Neill, who performs as drag artist Panti, mentioned the newspaper columnist in a discussion on what it is like being gay in Ireland on the 11 January programme.

Waters’s solicitor, Kevin Brophy, said he was instructed by his client to write to the broadcaster on the same day “seeking an apology and a retraction and the removal of certain defamatory comments from the internet broadcast”.

“My instructions were very clear at that time.  John Waters and the Iona Institute clients wanted an apology and a retraction and nothing else,” he wrote today (emphasis his).

This is not a case of John Waters trying to silence the gay lobby or prevent freedom of speech.  He was defamed.  He continues to be defamed. If RTÉ had acted appropriately and sensibly on day one, this current storm would never have arisen.

In a memo to staff, RTÉ’s head of television, Glen Killane, revealed that “every option available to it, including right of reply and an offer to make a donation to a neutral charity”was explored.

Killane, went on to say that management took a particular course of action partly because of “the decision by the complainants not to accept RTE’s proposed remedies”.

According to Brophy, “this is a grossly misleading version of what actually happened” but RTÉ is standing by what it said.

In a statement this afternoon, a spokesperson said:

RTÉ have provided a fair and accurate account of the negotiations and their conclusions. The apology proposed by Mr Waters was unacceptable to RTÉ.  It is untrue to claim that RTÉ did not take all matters relating to this complaint seriously from the outset.

“Due consideration was given to the full range of RTÉ’s responsibilities as a public service broadcaster, in tandem with careful consideration of the legal advice.”

Waters’ legal team claim that RTÉ proposed a right of reply, something it likens to asking him (and other complainants) to “prove they are not homophobic”.

Its statement continues:

“John Waters also made several attempts to deal with the matter himself, including having a lengthy telephone conversation with the producer of the Saturday Night Show.

In the course of this conversation, he discovered that far from showing a willingness to vindicate his reputation, RTÉ had spent the previous two days conducting an internet trawl in a fruitless attempt to belatedly substantiate the allegation made by Mr O’Neill. They failed in these endeavours.

“John Waters then proposed the precise wording of an apology and further proposed that a donation of €15,000 be made to the St. Vincent De Paul to mark the seriousness of the defamatory comments. This proposal did not come from RTE, it came from John Waters. RTÉ were not happy to broadcast the apology we had drafted and instead said they intended to go ahead with a totally unsatisfactory two sentence statement. Over the course of the following seven days, an unsatisfactory wording was eventually agreed and was broadcast.”

Brophy said that RTÉ wanted to decrease the amount of the proposed donation to €5,000. After this, advice was given to the client to issue proceedings against the broadcaster because it was not “taking the matter seriously”.

The solicitor also noted that the negotiations were taking place at a time when “outrageous” abuse and commentary was being leveled at his client.

“Eventually RTE offered €40,000 and this was accepted. I did not recommend the figure as I felt it was too low,” continued Brophy. “The bottom line here is that if RTÉ had accepted John Water’s original proposal, this case would have settled at a fraction of the final cost to RTÉ.”

“I have acted for John Waters for many years. In previous defamation actions he has requested that settlements be passed to charity. John Waters agreed to this final settlement and apology in the hope of putting an end to the matter and in deference to the members of the Iona Institute, who had also been defamed.”

Here is the statement, in full:

RTE said in their recent statement “I want to reassure you that RTE explored every option available to it, including right of reply. Legal advice was sought and all avenues were explored, including an offer to make a donation to a neutral charity”. They further went on to say that they took a particular course of action partly because of “the decision by the complainants not to accept RTE’s proposed remedies”.

This is a grossly misleading version of what actually happened.

This is what actually happened.

I was instructed by John Waters on January 11th to write to RTE seeking an apology and a retraction and the removal of certain defamatory comments from the internet broadcast of the Saturday Night Show.  My instructions were very clear at that time.  John Waters and the Iona Institute clients wanted an apology and a retraction and nothing else.

RTE proposed a right of reply which was like asking my clients to prove they are not homophobic.  John Waters also made several attempts to deal with the matter himself, including having a lengthy telephone conversation with the producer of the Saturday Night Show.  In the course of this conversation, he discovered that far from showing a willingness to vindicate his reputation, RTE had spent the previous two days conducting an internet trawl in a fruitless attempt to belatedly substantiate the allegation made by Mr O’Neill.  They failed in these endeavours.

John Waters then proposed the precise wording of an apology and further proposed that a donation of €15,000 be made to the St. Vincent De Paul to mark the seriousness of the defamatory comments. This proposal did not come from RTE, it came from John Waters. RTE were not happy to broadcast the apology we had drafted and instead said they intended to go ahead with a totally unsatisfactory two sentence statement. Over the course of the following 7 days, an unsatisfactory wording was eventually agreed and was broadcast.

RTE’s response to the proposed donation to the St. Vincent De Paul was that they felt the figure should be €5,000.   My very strong advice was for John Waters to issue proceedings against RTE as I did not believe they were taking the matter seriously.

It should also be noted that these negotiations were ongoing at a time when John Waters was being subjected to the most outrageous level of online abuse and adverse commentary.

Eventually RTE offered €40,000 and this was accepted. I did not recommend the figure as I felt it was too low.  The bottom line here is that if RTE had accepted John Water’s original proposal, this case would have settled at a fraction of the final cost to RTE.

I have acted for John Waters for many years. In previous defamation actions he has requested that settlements be passed to charity.  John Waters agreed to this final settlement and apology in the hope of putting an end to the matter and in deference to the members of the Iona Institute, who had also been defamed. This is not a case of John Waters trying to silence the gay lobby or prevent freedom of speech.  He was defamed.  He continues to be defamed.  If RTE had acted appropriately and sensibly on day one, this current storm would never have arisen.

First published 11am

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