Irish broadcaster discontinues program that falsely accused priest

Irish broadcaster RTE has ended its current affairs series “Prime Time Investigates” after a news report last year falsely claimed a missionary priest raped and impregnated a minor in Kenya.

The move is part of a “full restructuring” to help program makers at all levels accept “their responsibility and role in rebuilding RTE’s reputation for very high quality journalism,” RTE director general Noel Curran said April 3.

“Mistakes will happen in broadcasting and in journalism, no matter what changes are made. Program makers must be and will be supported in making challenging programming but the standards we set for ourselves as the national broadcaster must be very high, as I know they are in so much of what we currently do,” Curran said.

In May 2011, “Prime Time Investigates” broadcast an episode “Mission To Prey” that wrongly accused Fr. Kevin Reynolds of County Galway of raping and impregnating an underage girl in Kenya 30 years ago. It falsely reported that the priest secretly provided financial support for the baby.

Before broadcast, the priest volunteered to undergo a DNA test to prove his innocence, an offer RTE refused.

The priest was removed from his home and from parish ministry, but two separate DNA tests later proved his innocence.

The priest has agreed to accept substantial damages from the broadcaster in an out-of-court libel settlement.

Curran said the “Prime Time Investigates” series “will not return to air.” The broadcaster will create a new current affairs investigation unit to take its place.

The news of the series being canceled was accompanied by the announcement that Ed Mulhall, RTE’s head of news, will retire. Current affairs editor Ken O’Shea has resigned his position and will transfer to another assignment.

There are now five senior posts in television news and current affairs to be filled. All editorial staff will be trained in new journalism guidelines and a new standards board will oversee their work, Curran said.

RTE faces an inquiry from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland over the false report. It could be fined up to $333,000 if it rules the show’s treatment of the priest was not fair, objective and impartial, the Irish newspaper The Independent reports.

In November, Curran called the report “one of the gravest editorial mistakes ever made” in the broadcaster’s five-decade history.

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