Some stories stick out, and not for a good reason – there’s a whiff of something not right off them, and the much-trumpeted interview with Michaella McCollum is one of them.
(Not that I have been able to see it in full, of course. The RTE Player continues to discriminate against the Irish abroad, limiting access to content which, although brilliant, as with the recent I Am Traveller documentary, has questionable or negligible resale value abroad).
But the McCollum story itself is now a story, and there are questions that RTE needs to answer in relation to it.
I have worked for the various editorial departments of RTE (mostly radio) on many occasions, and without exception they are highly-qualified and extremely professional people.
But in this case the state broadcaster needs to be utterly transparent about how the interview was conducted. Nothing less than the journalistic credibility of the national broadcaster is at stake – stories that wouldn’t look out of place in the tabloids are all well and good, but tabloid tactics and chequebook journalism are not.
The “why Michaela?” question is irrelevant – news editors make such decisions all the time, and besides, her arrest, denial of guilt and trial were big news stories, and it is logical to cover her release and to try to unearth the truth.
The following questions need to be answered, promptly and thoroughly:
1. Who initiated the story/interview – was it Michaela, the journalist on the ground, the RTE news desk, a book publisher, PR agency or similar?
2. Did Michaella, her family, her foundation or any other party connected with her receive any sort of compensation (including, but not limited to, cash, flights or accommodation) in return for her co-operation?
3. Did McCollum and/or her representatives promise RTE or their representatives exclusivity? If so, what did they receive in return?
4. Were there any demands or requirements made by McCollum or her representatives as to where, when and under what circumstances the interview would take place?
5. Did McCollum and/or her representatives refuse to answer particular questions, or seek a list of questions prior to the interview? If so, did RTE acceded to those requests? Did the journalist on site decide the questions to be asked or was he instructed by the news desk?
6. Is there more than one take of any of McCollum’s answers to the questions posed?
I am aware that there are confidentiality issues at play here, and therefore I have not asked for specific numbers regarding compensation or costs, so RTE should be well able to reply.
And if they have signed any confidentiality agreement that precludes them from explaining the journalistic method used, then that raises a whole new set of worrying questions.