Sunday, 9 December 2007

Council says Prime Time misled it

RTE has been accused of misleading Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council after the State broadcaster used the council's chamber to film part of its Prime Time Investigates programme into alleged planning malpractice by councillors in a number of local authorities.

County Manager Owen Keegan also told councillors last week that after a preliminary examination he was confident that Prime Time also misrepresented the council in the part of the programme that dealt with the date-stamping of the Ethics Register and Annual Declaration Forms.

However, RTE says it stands by the content of the programme and insists there had not been any misrepresentation at any stage.

The documentary, entitled The Pressure Zone, was screened on RTE1 on Monday, November 26. The programme probed councillors in local authorities around the country about the alleged misuse of their power regarding the rezoning of land and the declaration of their interests.

In an internal memo from Mr Keegan to councillors he said he was "surprised . . . to see the council chamber featuring in the programme" entitled The Pressure Zone.

The memo contains a report from a council official who says she believes RTE misled the council into believing the programme was a "low budget, public information programme" and a "positive representation of local government".

The memo contains a report from the council's Corporate Services department, which dealt with RTE on the filming of the programme. In the report, a council official says initially she asked RTE to pay a fee of €480 to use the council chamber to film reconstructions that featured in the documentary.

However, when RTE subsequently told council officials they could not afford to pay the fee, they decided to waive the charge because "we were . . . under the impression that it was going to be a positive representation of local government".

The official said RTE filmed in the chamber on November 8 but says "at no time during any of our dealings with RTE did they mention that the filming had anything to do with Prime Time Investigates.

"I took the booking in good faith but I believe RTE misled me into believing that it was a low budget, public information programme," she said.

Mr Keegan said if RTE had been more "forthcoming about the true nature of the programme" the matter would have been brought to his attention and that of the cathaoirleach before any decision was made on the request.

He has also rejected a specific part of the programme relating to the Ethics Register, which claims the majority of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown councillors' Annual Declaration Forms were not stamped.

In an effort to force councillors to take ethical standards seriously it has been made a criminal offence to submit an incomplete complete declaration of their interests to their local authority before the end of February each year.

The programme said Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown had told Prime Time they had fully date-stamped all their Annual Declaration forms. However, Prime Time claimed that when it examined the local authority's returns more than 68 per cent of them were not stamped or were illegible.

In the memo Mr Keegan said he was "satisfied that RTE have misrepresented the position of the council on this matter. This is potentially much more serious. I will write to you again tomorrow when I have a transcript of what was actually said".

RTE has ordered an internal investigation. A spokeswoman said: "We're absolutely satisfied that the facts contained in the programme were correct and that there was no misrepresentation."

Jamie Deasy
Irish Independent

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