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RTÉ decides to axe Prime Time Investigates

One RTÉ executive retires and another resigns his post and moves to another position in the station.

Image: Mark Stedman/ Photocall Ireland

TWO RTÉ EXECUTIVES have left their positions as a result of inquiries into the Prime Time Investigates programme ‘A Mission to Prey’. The Prime Time Investigates series is also to be permanently shelved, RTÉ has announced.

Ed Mulhall, the Managing Director of RTÉ’s News and Current Affairs division, retired from the broadcaster from March 2012, according to a statement just issued by RTÉ.

Ken O’Shea, Editor of Current Affairs, has resigned that post. He is now “transferring to an assignment in Television, reporting to the Commissioning Editor for RTÉ Two”.

RTÉ also announced today that it has convened an External Investigation Board “into all personnel matters arising in respect of the programme ‘A Mission to Prey’.” This board is currently investigating and is to deliver a report to RTÉ’s Group Head of HR. RTÉ said it won’t comment on the work of the board until it has reached a conclusion.

Until that document has been examined by RTÉ, it won’t be commenting on the fates of reporter Aoife Kavanagh and executive producer Brian Pairceir, who were also involved in the ‘A Mission to Prey’ programme. The two stepped aside from their posts while the BAI carried out its inquiries.

The revelations came as part of an announcement from RTÉ Director General Noel Curran on “significant changes in the personnel, editorial management structure and operations of RTÉ Television’s current affairs output”.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland yesterday said that it had finished deliberations on an independent inquiry by its Compliance Committee into how an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme called ‘A Mission To Prey’ had defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds in May of last year. RTÉ paid Fr Reynolds a substantial amount in damages in the High Court last November as a result of the aired allegations that he had had a child by an underage girl while working as a missionary in Africa in the 1980s. These allegations, RTÉ said in an apology last October, were “baseless, without any foundation whatever and untrue”.

RTÉ is yet to comment on the BAI’s final report on the matter – today, RTÉ said that it is still awaiting “receipt of the formal notification of decision”, and it will have two weeks to examine the report itself when it receives it. However, the State broadcaster said that it was going to make this announcement about the restructuring of its current affairs department in the light of its own discussion in recent months.

Two documents were published today by RTÉ. One is a document called ‘Journalism Guidelines’. The other is ‘Key Actions and Changes: A Re-structured Current Affairs, New Journalism Guidelines, Editorial Standards and Training’ which outlines the decisions taken in light of the recent controversies in RTÉ.

Some of the major points of the documents are that:

  • Prime Time Investigates will not return to air but new investigative television programmes will come from a new Current Affairs Investigations Unit. This unit will be “multimedia”, producing special investigative docs for both TV and radio.
  • Restructuring in the Current Affairs department means that five senior posts (including those two vacated by Mulhall and O’Shea) will need to be filled. “There will be external recruitment but no net additions to RTÉ headcount”, said the statement.
  • Those five posts to be filled are: Managing Director RTÉ News and Current Affairs; Managing Editor Television Current Affairs; Editor of Prime Time; Editor of Frontline; Editor of RTÉ’s Investigations Unit. The final three of those will report to the Managing Editor of Television Current Affairs. Previously, the functions of those latter four posts were pretty much under the remit of the Editor of Current Affairs. The new Managing Editor of Television Current Affairs person will then report directly to the MD of News and Current Affairs.
  • All RTÉ editorial staff will be trained in the new Journalism Guidelines from late April/early May onwards.
  • A new Editorial Standards Board will “oversee standards”. The members of this board are: RTÉ News Managing Editor Michael Good; RTÉ Radio 1 head Jim Jennings; RTÉ Television Director of Programmes Steve Carson; Eleanor Bleahane of RTÉ Solicitors’ Office; Head of Broadcast Compliance Peter Feeney.
  • There will be a revised complaints procedure – and the Editorial Standards Board will have a role in that.
  • An External Investigation Board is currently carrying out an inquiry into “all personnel matters” arising from the ‘A Mission To Prey’ controversy. Its results will go to the RTÉ human resources department. The people on that board are former Employment Appeals Tribunal head Gaye Cunningham; BBC Trustee Richard Ayre; former senator and Northern Ireland Ombudsman Dr Maurice Hayes.

What happens to the rest of the ‘A Mission To Prey’ crew?>

RTÉ: Full statement on “two very serious editorial failures”>

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