RTE has sensationally admitted that no taped interview exists with a government minister claiming to be a regular cocaine user.
The absence of an audio recording weakens the journalistic credibility of the revelation and increases pressure on RTE over other claims in its highprofile expose on cocaine use among middle-class professionals.
RTE admitted in a statement that the allegation, which covers 32 Fianna Fail and PD politicians who held ministerial positions in October 2006, was based on written notes taken by journalist Justine Delaney-Wilson.
The allegation features in the book High Society and in its associated twopart television programme. In the opening sequences of the first programme, viewers were given the clear impression that the interview with a cocaine-using politician was recorded in audio form.
As late as last Friday afternoon, neither RTE nor publisher Gill & Macmillan would clarify if a taped interview had taken place.
However, on Friday evening, RTE admitted: "There are no audio recordings of the politician. In the case of the politician, RTE television relied upon the extensive contemporaneous notes which fully record this individual's testimony."
RTE will now face questions about the editorial checks it put in place to substantiate Delaney-Wilson's written notes. The former television researcher provided the station with legal affidavits, but she was unavailable for comment this weekend. She has stated previously that she recorded the anonymous drug-taking admission by a minister in October 2006, and other admissions on tapes that are now locked away in a safe.
Drugs minister Pat Carey last night called on RTE to provide the gardai with whatever information it has about the politician. While saying he did not believe the allegation, Carey said he was "throwing down the gauntlet to RTE to either put up or shut up".
"There are no public interest grounds on which RTE can withhold this information from the gardai. The station has to say whether or not it is willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, " Carey told this newspaper.
The controversy is likely to provoke a reaction from communications minister Eamon Ryan and possibly the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.
The politician is described as a government minister in the book, but named by RTE as 'Robert. Politician'.
Delaney-Wilson said she met the individual in Buswells Hotel in October 2006. She said the politician told her:
"Yes, I do take drugs . . . just coke though . . . regularly enough." In a recent interview, Delaney-Wilson would not say if the minister she met held a senior or junior position.
RTE and Gill & Macmillan declined requests to see interview transcripts claiming confidentiality agreements, but they both said they remained confident about the authenticity of the material. "All of the original material . . .
both recorded and in note form . . . including that from the politician, has been interrogated fully. Recordings do exist.
Notes exist, " a RTE statement said on Friday afternoon. However, following subsequent requests for clarification about the politician's interview, RTE admitted for the first time that no taped audio interview was conducted.
RTE will now face scrutiny over the other revelations. Organisations representing pilots, solicitors, the clergy and the GAA this weekend questioned the authenticity of the allegations. The Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) told the Sunday Tribune it was writing to RTE requesting that the station disclose the identity of the pilot, who says he snorted cocaine in the cockpit, in the interests of passenger safety. While expressing disbelief about the allegation, Conor Nolan of Ialpa said RTE had to act, as "pilots have a safety-critical function".