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What happens to the rest of the 'A Mission To Prey' crew?

Noel Curran, Director General of RTÉ, has said that the movement of two senior execs was voluntary and that an independent external board is still investigating other personnell in ‘A Mission to Prey’ debacle.

Image: Photocall Ireland

RTÉ’s DIRECTOR GENERAL Noel Curran has said that the future of personnel closely involved with the defamatory ‘A Mission to Prey’ programme is still not decided.

The State broadcaster today announced that two of the editorial executives over the Prime Time Investigates series had moved from their positions. (In that same release, RTÉ confirmed that Prime Time Investigates has been permanently taken off the air). Ed Mulhall,  Managing Director of News and Current Affairs, has taken a retirement package and Ken O’Shea, Editor of Current Affairs, has resigned from his post and taken up one in RTÉ2′s commissioning department.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio1′s Drivetime this evening, Noel Curran said that the movement of O’Shea and Mulhall should not be read as a disciplinary measure as RTÉ could not apportion blame for the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds until it has seen and discussed the BAI’s final report on the matter. RTÉ currently only has a copy of the executive summary of the BAI report and not the full report, but it is completed and believed to be on its way to the broadcaster.

At least three other staff members worked closely on the Prime Time Investigates programme ‘A Mission to Prey’ – reporter Aoife Kavanagh, executive producer Brian Pairceir and producer Mark Lappin. Lappin has since moved to take up a job in CNN. Pairceir and Kavanagh stepped aside while the various inquiries went ahead into the process by which the programme was aired, as did Mulhall and O’Shea, who were both further up the editorial chain of command.

In limbo

An RTÉ spokesperson told TheJournal.ie today that Pairceir and Kavanagh were still in limbo (our word, not the spokesperson’s) until such time as the BAI report was being published.

Then there is the matter of another inquiry taking place under the remit of an External Investigation Board. RTÉ also announced today that it had convened this board to independently investigate “all personnel matters arising in respect of the programme ‘A Mission To Prey’ and to make specific recommendations concerneing RTÉ personnel”.

This, according to Curran, is when any of those personnel not named in today’s statement, will find out their fate.

He told Drivetime:

In terms of apportioning blame, you get into very dangerous territory because you have to have due process.

Due process involves awaiting those recommendations from the External Investigations Board. This is the first time that RTÉ has had an independent investigations board with no employee of the broadcaster sitting on it. The members of this board are:

  • Dr Maurice Hayes MRIA (chair), member of Seanad Eireann 1997-2007, former Chair National Forum on Europe, former Northern Ireland Ombudsman. At various times he has been Head of Personnel, NI Civil Service; member BBC NI Advisory Committee; and Director of Independent News and Media.
  • Richard Ayre was deputy news editor at BBC NI from 1973 to 1976. At BBC in London he led the Corporation’s Westminster operations before becoming Controller of Editorial Policy and Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News. He joined Ofcom in 2006 where he chaired the UK regulator’s Broadcasting Review Committee. In 2010 he moved back to the BBC as one of the twelve Trustees. He now chairs the Trust’s Complaints and Appeals Committee.
  • Gaye Cunningham has been a Rights Commissioner since 2008. Prior to that, she was a Senior Human Resources Manager with ESB. She has over 30 years experience in the Industrial Relations field and was a member of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

On the moves of Ed Mulhall and Ken O’Shea, Curran said that they had to be named today because “they are decision that we needed to get out now to staff” and because they need to find replacements.

“Ed Mulhall made a personal decision to retire”

In the case of O’Shea in particular, it appears that RTÉ is looking for four people to replace the remit of his old job. As Editor of Current Affairs, he would have had editorial responsibility for Prime Time, Prime Time Investigates and Frontline. There will no longer be an Editor of Current Affairs. There will be a Managing Editor of Television Current Affairs instead – and three new positions in the form of an Editor of Prime Time, and Editor of Frontline and an Editor of RTÉ’s new Investigations Unit. These three will report directly to the former. The Managing Editor of Television Current Affairs will directly report to the new Managing Director of News and Current Affairs.

RTÉ has said today that the five new posts (instead of replacing just two) will not raise the overall number of staff at the station. There is currently one Executive Producer on Frontline and there was one for Prime Time Investigates, while there are currently two on Prime Time. It is not known yet if the introduction of an Editor on PT, Frontline and the new Current Affairs Investigations Unit could see those titles changed, or if those posts will remain as is.

Curran stressed today that the two men who were named today as moving from their posts had done so as a matter of their own personal decisions. He said Ed Mulhall left under the exit scheme that is in place for all RTÉ staff. Curran said:

Anyone who knows Ed Mulhall knows that he never has and never would duck responsibility. He has made a personal decision. He has exited through a scheme that is available to all RTÉ staff.

He said the same was true of Ken O’Shea who had resigned from his post and had taken up a new one in Commissioning at RTÉ2.

Rigid scheduling deadlines put investigative teams under pressure

Curran did reveal one small pointer towards the conclusions RTÉ has drawn from its investigations of the affair. He said that a large reason why Prime Time Investigates is being discontinued as a series is because the pressure of having to produce investigative pieces within a rigid schedule might have put production teams and editorial staff under pressure.  He said that “in hindsight, it was a mistake” to run the programmes back-to-back. In future, investigative pieces will be broadcast “when they are ready; not geared towards a date… given in a schedule three months earlier”.

Another hint at what the RTÉ conclusions will focus on came in his explanation for releasing a new set of journalistic guidelines for staff. It’s not that staff didn’t adhere to the old ones, he said, but that:

Our old guidelines were ambiguous.

The new ones give journalists “much clearer definitions of their responsibilities” and outline the chain of approval for something to be aired.

Curran added:

We’re not an arrogant organisation… We are going to learn from these mistakes, we are going to come out of this.

Whether the same will apply to all personnel involved in the “very serious editorial failures” as mentioned in Curran’s statement today awaits the result of that External Investigations Board and its own discussions on the BAI findings.

RTÉ decides to axe Prime Time Investigates>

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

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