Ethics in journalism
Since Fr John K. Guiney took over as president of the Irish Missionary Union, one issue has made huge demands on his energies: the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds (pictured here) by RTE’s Prime Time team. When two other priests had declined invitations to speak on Tonight with Vincent Browne, John accepted, feeling that the church has been too timid in speaking against injustices and libels in the more disreputable media. In an hour of strong talk, John made clear what the IMU wanted and wants: a robust external investigation of this tragic episode, in which there are many victims – most of all Fr Kevin Reynolds – and no winners. Despite the ugliness of the incident, the broadcast was good. John received huge positive feedback for his balance, honesty, calm and trenchant arguments. Read more:
John pointed to the many questions requiring an answer: Why broadcast an accusation of fathering a child through the rape of a minor, when Fr Reynolds had not only denied the allegation, but offered a paternity test? What were RTE’s lawyers doing to allow such folly – or were they over-ruled? Who authorised the humiliating door-stepping of Fr Reynolds after Mass in his parish – media people baying for his blood and shouting their slanders in front of the parishioners? Who authorised the tendentious title for the programme, in the worst tradition of tabloid sensationalism, and reflecting a cynical ignorance of the often heroic and constructive work of Irish missionaries?
This has obviously been a tragedy for the principal victim, Fr Kevin Reynolds, whose life can never be the same again; but a tragedy also for the two women dragged into the spotlight. It is a tragedy for journalistic integrity and ethics. The many responsible journalists, who like the missionaries work for peace and justice, will be tainted by association and the loss of credibility this blunder has caused.
Who can the Irish public believe, when the national broadcaster presents such sordid fiction as fact? What was the line of command, and did unquestioned prejudice make it possible for RTE to cause such suffering? The Irish tax-payer, who supports RTE’s salaries, deserves that answers be given and action taken to deal with the various decision-makers. The enquiry should be conducted in a mood of calm dialogue, free from the bitter rants that characterised the Prime Time programme. The outcome which IMU and all people of good will want of these inquiries is that our public broadcasting service will never defame someone again. In many ways the Church and RTE have a common challenge: to continue to install and implement regulations, systems and processes which avoid cover-ups, to become transparent and accountable to the people they serve, and to be just and truthful to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.