RTé's silence over the abuse of cocaine by Gerry Ryan falls well short of the standards a public-sector broadcaster should aspire to.

All last week, people tuning into RTÉ might have expected some sort of discussion about the issues for wider society raised by the death from cocaine of a man of Gerry Ryan's stature.

Yet the star presenters and senior managers remained noticeably silent about the lessons that can and should be learned from the revelation that the 2FM presenter was a lifelong drug abuser. Ryan Tubridy, to be fair to him, broke the silence but only to say that as a friend of Gerry Ryan, he would not be dealing with the subject on the show. He condemned cocaine abuse.

The reticence of RTÉ presenters to host discussions about Ryan in the light of the inquest findings, and about middle-class cocaine abuse generally, is perfectly understandable on a human level. These were his friends and colleagues. They liked and respected him.

They genuinely would not want to intrude on the grief of his family, as Pat Kenny said on Friday, nor add to the hurt felt by his partner Melanie Verwoerd, who had to endure the pain of discovering at the inquest that Ryan secretly took cocaine despite making a promise not to do so. Such deceits and betrayals, even to those closest to the abuser, are the stock in trade of the addict.

But Gerry Ryan was a very public figure. He was an opinionated, clever, but also understanding man whose programmes often proved a touchstone for the wider public who tuned in. He was an avid commentator on a wide variety of social issues, including drug abuse. He was a role model. He did not flinch from devoting airtime to the fallout from the death from cocaine of young Katy French, condemning cocaine use at the time despite the fact that he was a lifelong abuser of the drug.

That he died so young was tragic. But that he died as a result of abuse of a class-A illegal drug is a legitimate matter for journalistic discussion. The testimony of many who knew him over the years is that his drug-taking was an open secret, but it was left unchallenged.

Ignoring drug abuse is to facilitate it. On one level, the failure within RTÉ to confront the issue publicly is an approach that counsellors working with families damaged by drug abuse might regard as classic enabling.

Quite apart from the fact that their role as public-sector broadcasters, paid for by the public licence fee, should be to lead the debate on difficult subjects such as middle-class drug abuse, their failure to confront the issue allows too much to be left unsaid. At the very least, might there not have been some attempt to puncture the veneer of glamour associated with Ryan's hedonistic lifestyle?

Some 217 people died of cocaine-related abuse in the years 2007, '08 and '09. That fact alone makes the premature cocaine-induced death of one of Irish society's most important role models an issue, if only to warn others in a similar position.

RTÉ senior management needs to explain what lessons it has learned itself. Its drugs policy, and the sort of help it offers to those it employs, must be a matter for review. If it was such an open secret, why did nobody intervene – to help, not necessarily condemn?

A documentary is now being made about the late broadcaster. It was scheduled to be screened over the Christmas period. If it is to be a true portrayal of a complex, much-loved man, it cannot ignore the truth.