RTÉ’s News Values



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On this week’s Here’s How current affairs podcast with William Campbell (above).

Donal Byrne, RTÉ’s News Planner and a senior news editor, answers questions from William on whether RTÉ should describe people as ‘known to the gardaí’; whether they blacked out news of Gemma O’Doherty’s firing by the Irish Independent; and whether Paul Reynolds is sufficiently independent of the gardaí.


Listen here

William writes:

The phrase ‘known to gardaí” appears scores of times on the RTÉ website and, as Donal Byrne rightly pointed out, frequently occurs in other Irish media.

The phrase has been sharply criticised for the meaning it carries, including by novelist Frankie Gaffney.

Derek O’Toole died when he was struck by an off-duty Garda’s car in Lucan Co Dublin in March 2007. Within hours of his death, and without naming their source or sources, RTÉ accused him of being ‘known to gardaí’.

It later emerged that he had no criminal record or criminal associations whatsoever, and GSOC concluded that unknown gardaí had supplied false information to journalists.

Jeffrey Hannan was murdered in Limerick in 2007, and on the day of his death he was described by RTÉ and other outlets as being ‘known to gardaí’, and it turned out that he also had no criminal record or associations whatsoever.

At Jeffrey’s funeral, Fr Pat Hogan sharply criticised the media for this specifically.

He said:

“What a phrase [‘known to gardai’]. I imagine that those who use such a phrase are trying to pitch Jeffrey and others into another world — a world where such violent things happen, a world to which we do not belong and that will never touch us.”

RTÉ ‘s guidelines for journalists state that:

“We should be reluctant to rely on a single source especially if the information from that source has been given on condition of anonymity.”

If what Donal Byrne said is true, it is remarkable that in both cases RTÉ and other media outlets all secured multiple sources giving incorrect but identical information within the very few hours between the death of each and the accusation being made on-air.

Donal suggested that ‘being criticised by both sides‘ was an indication that RTÉ is, in fact, objective.

Leaving aside this logical fallacy, it is clear that outside RTÉ, Paul Reynolds is widely viewed as a reporter sympathetic to Garda management, for example herehereherehere and here.

I said that there was a virtual news blackout on RTÉ about the case of the firing of Gemma O’Doherty, as witnessed by the Guardian, a British newspaper publishing many times more stories on the case than RTÉ.

RTÉ’s few stories on the case are mostly insipid bare-bones statements of the fact that a case had been lodged, and later settled, without any background or analysis.

Donal suggested that this may have been because ‘one side of the case‘ leaked information to the Guardian in breach of the confidential settlement of the case.

This is evidently incorrect, since much of the Guardian reporting was published before the settlement.

RTÉ’s effective news blackout on the story itself became international news with headlines such as ‘Ireland’s media ignore Irish Independent editor’s annulled penalty points’ and ‘Irish investigative reporter lashes media bosses for newsroom timidity’ by high-profile journalist Roy Greenslade.

The Guardian were by no means the only international press to cover the story, it has been carried by The Irish Post, the Sunday TimesYahoo News and others.

The Guardian and The Irish Post also reported the story that former Commissioner Martin Callanan had been called as a witness in Gemma O’Doherty’s case, a story that RTÉ entirely blacked out.

RTÉ did, however find space to report the fact that Nanci Creedon, daughter of John, had established a dog-grooming business.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland defines sponsorship as :

“Any contribution made by a public or private undertaking to the financing of television and/or radio programmes with a view to promoting its name, its trade mark, its image, its activities, its products or its services.

I understand that the AA [Automobile Association] pays the salaries of the presenters and pays the rent on the studios from which they broadcast.

I also understand that guests on RTÉ radio programmes introduced as ‘from a city centre studio‘ are, in fact speaking from the AA studios, in direct contravention on the BAI’s total ban on the sponsorship of news and current affairs programmes.

Despite what Donal says in the podcast, Conor Faughnan has often been referred to as “Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch” on-air on RTÉ when he is campaigning against speed limits, for reducing taxes on the motor industry and for more road building, using the credibility afforded by the 158 broadcasts per week that he supplies to to RTÉ.

The High Court ruled in 1998 that prohibited political advertisements include “any advert directed towards: procuring changes in the laws of this country, or countering suggested changes in those laws“, and the BAI make it clear that the same rules apply to sponsored programmes.

Here’s How

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21 thoughts on “RTÉ’s News Values

    1. mauriac

      next up : de facto rte employees dodging paye etc. by operating spurious ,” production companies” , hopefully .
      Already exposed in England and dealt with by the BBC years ago.

  1. perricrisptayto

    Derek O’Toole was killed by a drink driver who was also a serving Garda,off duty at the time.
    Lots wrong with how that particular case was handled from the get go.
    But it’s the same old same old with RTE.
    Dont remember Paul Reynolds going full investigative mode on this awful case.

    1. Anne


      At about 5am Mr O’Toole was run over on the main street in Lucan.

      Garda Damien Carey was found to be under the legal limit when breathalysed shortly after the incident in Lucan in Dublin in the early hours of 4 March.

      He told the inquest that he had drunk three pints of Guinness and less than two bottles of beer that evening.

      Crash happened at 5am.. I wouldn’t know too many people who’d out that late and not be drinking.

      I don’t suppose they’d fake a breathalyser result though, would they? I’ve heard of Gardai in Limerick all right who’ve had a few crashes while drinking, and nothing done…they’re like a cabal for themselves. The rest of us have to deal with the consequences of fines and penalty points for being slightly over the speed limit, with that private company they’ve hired to do their donkey work, who are raking it in for them.. and yet they can go out and drink drive and kill people and not a thing done.

    2. Anne


      The Commission is persuaded, having considered the Senior Investigation Officer’s report, that the most probable source of the false information was a member or members of the Garda Síochána. It notes a witness statement by the newspaper reporter who first published the information, that the false publication concerning the character and alleged and untrue criminal record of Mr. Derek O’Toole, was based on information supplied to him by a member or members of
      the Garda Síochána.

      The Commission is satisfied from the investigation that the false information
      published in regard to Mr. Derek O’Toole’ s character and alleged criminal record was not communicated by the Garda Press Office or by any other authorised Garda source.

      I don’t see how they can be satisfied that the false information wasn’t authorised.

      The Commission notes that the Senior Investigation Officer’s investigation has shown that in the period of 54 hours after the incident that caused the death of Mr. Derek O’Toole, a total of 187 persons checked the PULSE Garda computer system in regard to the deceased. One garda also checked the system in regard to another member of the deceased’s family.

      What a bunch of muppets..

    3. Anne

      No, but Reynolds was only too happy to relay that the poor man was ‘known to gardai’… imagine how awful for the family.
      RTE are for the birds. They should have been sued by the family IMO.

      1. phil

        I think GSOC is a very Irish organisation, I dont know if they are unwilling to go further or if the system precludes them so I suspect they are just attempting to document as much as they are able within the boundaries of whats possible under the system

        1. Anne

          Yeah, very fupping Irish.. i.e. useless.

          The newspaper reporter said it was a garda … so we think it was probably a garda. Wonderful.

          No repercussions at all for outright lies about an innocent man who had the misfortune of being involved in a crash with an off duty garda, at 5am in the morning, who only had a few pints and a few bottles..

    1. mauriac

      when any person or organisation can easily produce a fairly high quality ( certainly compared to rte radio ) podcast what is the point of a resource sucking RTE radio monopoly?

  2. Frunobulax

    One summer I worked in RTE hoofing sets about the place. Saw Andy Townsend in full make-up, a fiercely bronzed John Giles smoking a cigar turning the air blue in a yellow beret and pink shirt and a girthy Des Cahill proclaiming along a tight wooden-pannelled hallway that you ‘couldn’t bullshit a bullshitter’. In the studios the various sets had men that couldn’t sit properly, women who preened in floral prints and the rumour that a certain broadcaster would pleasure himself before a show to get ready for the public. Then Sean Moncrieff stormed by, on his phone shouting at his agent as the IT boys surreptitiously surfed porno Simpson gifs. Once the summer ended, I kept thinking that this was fantastic, imagine a permanent job there! A bunch of people who were paid well (one chap even left a payslip on the ground outside Montrose so content was he there), ate free, well and often there, contributing by-and-large nothing to enrich the public discourse for the licence payer. Nothing much changed there so.

  3. moroccan rug dealer

    Poor innocent Jeffrey Hannan. He was attacked with an axe. Then kicked so brutally that his organs were found in his throat. His family are distraught. The scum including women walk free today still. They will burn in Hell for eternity. “Known to gardai” my eyeball. Ireland stinks and Gemma o Doherty does her level best to hold authority to account. RTE sucks.

  4. M

    RTE would work so much better if it was broken into 20 pieces.

    A lot of the issues with it boils down to the need to serve corporate culture.

    And the international news might as well be written by the US State Department.

  5. phil

    And then on the other side, you have the reportage of the Garda who committed suicide, I believe it was reported that he committed suicide because of matter relating to a GSOc investigation, they didnt inform him quickly enough that he was cleared of any suspicion of wrongdoing , that story got wall to wall coverage …

    Something else I noticed when went to one of the links to a journal article above regarding Wallace being asked questions by paul williams, the comments section just amazed me , very few commentators spotted what was so concerning about that incident, and the bile spouted … amazing…

  6. Truth in the News

    Abolish the licence….we will then see how long Paul Reyonlds “informed sources”
    and “known to the Gardai” will survive, RTE is not a Public Service at all, it is a
    collection of parasites on an ego trip and the News Planner job should be renamed
    Propaganda Planner.

  7. ahjayzis

    Fantastic podcast. Really nailed that dude to the wall.

    How you can listen to that long, looooong list of examples of nepotism and continue your feigned, startled, indignant offense is beyond me. Must be a Terry Prone hypnotism thing. This dude is either a world class spin doctor or completely in a bubble. RTE’s a shambles.

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