RTÉ and the hounding of Beverley
After what seemed a non-stop barrage of negative publicity in the national media, Beverley Flynn may have reason to think that the tide is finally starting to turn.
The front cover of Village, the current affairs magazine edited by Vincent Browne, last week carried the headline ‘RTÉ and the hounding of Beverley’ beside a photo of the Mayo deputy.
Inside, in a three-page spread, Browne argues that Beverley was hard done by in her failed libel action against RTÉ in the High Court, and also in the subsequent proceedings in the Supreme Court.
Browne, himself a barrister, clearly pins his colours to the mast in the opening paragraph of his article. RTÉ broadcast a false report about Beverley Flynn on June 19, 1998, he said. She took a libel action against the station, confident in the knowledge that what RTÉ’s Charlie Bird and George Lee had reported about her in their ‘exclusive’ story of June 19, was simply untrue. She had not advised the retired farmer, James Howard, not to avail of a tax amnesty.
“If the libel case had simply been about that core issue, she would have won handsomely,” he concludes.
Browne then goes on to castigate RTÉ who, he said, succeeded in digging itself out of the hole in which the false broadcast had landed them. Now, he says, they are threatening her with action that could spell the end of her political career.
The article continues by examining the likely political scenario with Flynn running as an independent Fianna Fáil candidate. She should, he speculates, be able to withstand the RTÉ bankruptcy claim, retain her Dáil seat and still have a few cards to play against RTÉ.
Interestingly, given the perceived hostility of the Dublin media to the Flynn political lineage, the cudgels are taken up on Beverley’s behalf in a second article in the same magazine, this time by John Waters of the Irish Times.
“The news that RTÉ had requested the Mayo County Sheriff to collect from Beverley Flynn a sum of €1.8m in libel costs would, in a properly functioning democracy, have occasioned outrage,” he began.
“A healthy media would have been calling for a mechanism whereby a person could defend her good name without having to impoverish herself,” he went on. “Instead, we witnessed undisguised delight at the downfall of someone who had the temerity to take on the media, and the misfortune to lose.”
All of this is surely of cold comfort to the Mayo TD who had few enough defences in the media when she really wanted them. Raking over the coals of that court case, even for someone with the forensic objectivity of Vincent Browne, won’t make a whit of difference to the result of the libel trial.
According to Browne, Beverley Flynn is currently in negotiation with RTÉ on a schedule of payments to clear the debt, which includes the value of her house in Castlebar in Manor Village. But, he says, that offer is not acceptable to RTÉ.
All of which comes back to RTÉ’s valid claim that the money owed is public money, which they must be seen to recover. The other side of the coin, however, is whether the national broadcaster would be better served by arranging a schedule which would see it eventually recover its costs, rather than – in Browne’s words – hounding their quarry to the extent where they would drive her out of public life, but recover nothing at all.