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Complaint to Broadcasting Complaints Commission re Gerry Ryan Show and Fr Ivan Payne

Complaint made by:      Ms. Marie Keenan

Station: 2FM       Programme: ”The Gerry Ryan Show””        Date: 25th September, 2002

Summary of Complaint:

Ms. Keenan’s complaint, under Section 24 (2)(a) and (b) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001, relates to the content of a discussion on the Gerry Ryan Show.  The item referred to the imminent release from prison of a priest, Fr. Ivan Payne, who is serving a prison sentence for sexual offences.

Ms. Keenan maintains the programme was unfair and unbalanced in the following manner –

  • Information in relation to Fr. Payne’s future living arrangements was discussed as though true without any reference to him or his family for verification or otherwise.  Suggestions that he was to live next to a ‘girl’s school’ in Celbridge were given as fact without any attempt to verify or check the information been broadcast.
  • It was stated in the broadcast that Fr. Payne was to be released two years before his scheduled release date.  The programme conducted an on-line poll asking listeners to vote whether Fr. Payne should be released from prison or not.  The programme had not clarified the situation regarding statutory remission for all prisoners in this State.
  • On the question of Fr. Payne having received treatment or not is a matter of public record.   The impression given in the broadcast was that Fr. Payne may not have had help for his problems and was a continuing risk to children.
  • On the question of treatment for sexual offenders, Mr. Ryan gave his personal view that he does not believe that sexual offenders can be rehabilitated or that treatment works.  He did not have a view from a professional in the area who could have given the programme’s listeners a flavour of what the research indicates in relation to the effectiveness of treatment with many groups of sexual offenders.
  • Inaccuracies were similarly presented in relation to the detail of Fr. Payne’s original sentence.
  • Mr. Ryan was unfair to the two men who identified themselves as victims of Fr. Payne’s in asking them to discuss, on air, the details of what they had experienced during the abuse they had endured.  One man clearly stated he did not wish to discuss his experience and Gerry Ryan tried another route of questioning finishing with “This Bastard buggered you Andrew”.

Ms. Keenan further stated the item was inciting hatred and violence in the following manner.

  • In asking one of the callers of his possible reaction on meeting Fr. Payne on his release from prison, Mr. Ryan phrased the question “Would you want to smash his face in?” 
  • Mr. Ryan put forward his own reactions: “I would have made it my life’s ambition to….to do this fella in.  If I was that young man, I’d be so bitter.  I’d be twisted.  I’d have made it my life’s ambition to get Payne.  I’d just want to kill him.
  • Mr. Ryan’s tone and language was inflammatory.
  • The programme invited listeners to vote as to whether Fr. Payne should be best described as ‘the paedo priest’ or the ‘beast priest’.  Use of animalistic terms is known to be a way of inciting human beings to see others as less than that, after all animals are killed, are without feeling etc.
  • Mr. Ryan attempted to incite the parents of children in Celbridge.  He suggested that they ought to be worried about the future of their children and was suggesting that Fr. Payne should not be allowed live in any community but on the top of a mountain e.g. Slieve Miskish for the rest of his life.

As a lecturer in social policy and social work at UCD and a psychotherapist who has treated victims and perpetrators of sexual crime for 25 years, Ms. Keenan sees a very big problem growing in Ireland in relation to sexual offenders.  It is next to impossible for these men to get accommodation on release from prison.  Ms. Keenan states that people’s lives are severely affected by this kind of broadcast and they are largely people with no voice, men who have perpetrated sexual offences and their families.  She would like Mr. Ryan to be called into account and to recognise that on the occasion of his broadcast he was the one in the powerful position with the opportunity to abuse that power or be respectful of it and use it for the common good, which to her understanding is what public service broadcasting is all about.

Station’s Response
RTÉ firstly states that there is no obligation on the programme to explain the basis of the early release of Fr. Payne.  The nature of the release came up in the course of the programme.  Mr. Ryan confessed that he himself was unsure of what was the basis of early release for prisoners.  The public is all familiar with the concept of early release from prisons.  Further on in the programme, Mr. Ryan carried a statement from the Prison Service which explained that Fr. Payne had received no concessions and had received the standard 2% remission in his sentence.  This was qualified after the break for News when Mr. Ryan confirmed that eighteen months off a six-year sentence was a 25% reduction.  They state that there is no obligation on the programme to provide any additional information on the subject of early release.

In the programme, Mr. Ryan interviewed Andrew Madden.  Mr. Madden was abused by Fr. Payne as an eleven-year-old boy.  The tone of Mr. Ryan’s interview is that of the devil’s advocate.  Mr. Madden has forgiven Fr. Payne ad goes out of his way to show understanding and consideration.  Mr. Ryan’s tone was provocative, but only in the sense that he is anticipating the response of the listener who would not be as forgiving as Mr. Madden.  RTÉ states that at all times during the interview, Mr. Ryan stays on the correct side of what is acceptable by an interviewer.  The listener would take from this interview respect and admiration for Mr. Madden.

Later in the programme, listeners rang in to express their concern at the news that Fr. Payne was going to be released.  The first caller lived in the Celbridge area and the second questioned the Church’s attitude to Fr. Payne’s release.  Mr. Ryan adopted a provocative tone in response to both callers expressing his personal view that Fr. Payne should be sent to live on top of a mountain.  RTÉ maintain that listeners familiar with Mr. Ryan know that he often expresses exaggerated views on a whole range of topics.  His views on Fr. Payne contained rhetorical flourishes which regular listeners are familiar with.  It is the nature of the programme that Mr. Ryan expresses strong views and this allows others to challenge those views.  Neither caller demurred from the opinions expressed by Mr. Ryan, but Mr. Ryan himself anticipated that his views would be unacceptable to liberal listeners and said so on air.

It is RTÉ’s view that the programme reflected the emotional response which is widespread in response to information about the abuse of children, especially by those in positions of trust.  The tone of the programme reflected the feelings of many of Fr. Payne’s victims and the concerns of many people that convicted perpetrators of sexual abuse of children should not be released back into the community without people being adequately informed.  The programme represented one element of RTÉ’s broadcast coverage of this social problem and we submit that this particular broadcast should be considered in the context in its totality.

Decision of the Commission:
The Commission upheld the complaint made by Ms. Keenan.  The Members felt that the presenter, Gerry Ryan, had infringed Section 24 2 (a) and (b) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001.  The programme was presented in an unbalanced manner and the presenter, through the use of emotive language, was encouraging incitement to hatred.  While the presenters broadcasting style maybe provocative, given the sensitive nature of the material, balance should have been maintained.  No attempt was made to discuss the issue generally.  The complaint was upheld.