Current Affairs Politics

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil – The Irish News Media And The Sam Smyth Scandal

As many regular readers may know (you are there, aren’t you?) I frequently bang on about the inequities of the “media establishment” in Ireland. In general I pretty much loathe ‘em, the whole right-wing, faux liberal, elitist Anglo shower. Bah! But for those of you who ask, “A Shionnaigh, but why?”, here, in several easily digestible paragraphs, is the answer.

Earlier this month The Journal carried some surprising news for those of us who believe in media plurality and freedom, news that has remained strangely underreported by the Irish press (or perhaps not so strangely as you will see).

“TODAY FM PRESENTER Sam Smyth has taken to the airwaves today following reports that his days presenting his Sunday current affairs show are numbered.

The Sunday Times reports today that Smyth has been sacked from the show he presents on Today FM, with the last show to be broadcast on 6 November. According to the paper Smyth has said that his reporting on the Moriarty Tribunal and his criticism of Denis O’Brien is behind him being dropped from the show.

On the show earlier, Smyth read out today’s headlines relating to his position in Today FM, but declined to comment saying:

“…before someone comes downstairs and pulls a wire we better move onto something else.”

The Sunday Independent reports that Smyth is planning to fight against his sacking by Today FM, which is owned by O’Brien. The Sunday Independent reports that O’Brien is currently suing Sam Smyth over comments made and written about the Moriarty Tribunal.”

The reaction to the news drew a deafening silence from the Irish rat pack – sorry, media pack. So much so that even a member of that august sleeping chamber, Seanad Éireann, was stirred from his slumber, as The Journal also reported:

“A LABOUR PARTY SENATOR has criticised members of the media for not showing more public solidarity to Today FM’s Sam Smyth, who is to be dropped by the station.

Senator John Whelan this morning criticised press commentators for their failure to publicly support Smyth…

“Press freedom and fair comment are a cornerstone and fundamental values of our democracy,” he said. “Fair comment in the public interest is a pillar of a real republic.”

It was reported in Sunday newspapers that Smyth was to be dropped from the station, which is owned by media and telecoms magnate Denis O’Brien – with the Sunday Times reporting that Smyth had protested that the move was related to his coverage of the Moriarty Tribunal.

That tribunal, which investigated the awarding of Ireland’s second mobile phone licence to O’Brien’s Esat Digifone, was prompted after reporting by Smyth published in the Irish Independent – which is also now majority owned by O’Brien.

George Hook of Newstalk – which is also owned by O’Brien’s Communicorp broadcasting empire – told listeners through Twitter that he did not think the matter was worthy of bringing up in an interview with Communications minister Pat Rabbitte.

On Sunday morning, however, Newstalk’s Eamon Dunphy made a brief statement on his own show – which clashes with Smyth’s Today FM show – defending his Communicorp colleague.

“If there’s any link between that sacking and his work as a journalist for the Independent newspaper group… it is up to every citizen in this country to understand that press freedom is threatened,” he said.”

That the Fine Gael activist journalist celebrity presenter George Hook squirmed his way out of making a comment on the affair was no surprise. Nor for many of us was the muted response of the journalistic class as a whole. After all they know which side their bread is buttered on and most have, do, or will work for the ubiquitous O’Brien owned media in Ireland. Eamon Dunphy’s courage in speaking up for his friend and colleague did come as a bit of surprise to some, despite his “maverick” reputation. However there is always a price to pay, even for integrity.

The Journal again:

“EAMON DUNPHY HAS announced that he’s quitting his job at Newstalk, calling the atmosphere at the station ‘inhospitable’ for journalists to work in.

A member of Newstalk staff has told that the first many employees heard about Dunphy’s departure when they opened the Irish Daily Star this morning, which carries Kieran Cunningham’s exclusive story.

Dunphy said that journalists have been encouraged to “put a positive spin on the news agenda” and he’s criticised budget cuts at the station.”

Today Dunphy spelled out his thoughts on the matter:

“EAMON DUNPHY HAS used his last show on Newstalk to reveal some of the reasons behind his decision to leave the station.

Dunphy said that Denis O’Brien – whose Communicorp company owns both Newstalk and Today FM – “hates journalism”. Dunphy also made reference to the working environment in Newstalk and said “not nice things are happening in this place”.

The Sunday Independent quotes Newstalk CEO Frank Cronin, who said that Dunphy was not spoken to about recent comments he made on his show about Sam Smyth’s departure. Cronin told the Independent’s Niamh Horan that Dunphy is free to say whatever he wants, and that he had been asked to take a more positive view in his coverage of some issues.

Meanwhile Dunphy told Mark Tighe and Justine McCarthy in The Sunday Times that Denis O’Brien is at war with journalists.”

As well as owning several radio stations in Ireland O’Brien is also a (somewhat unwelcome) shareholder in the dominant Independent News & Media (IN&M) along with long-time rival Tony O’Reilly (or Sir Tony O’Reilly as he – and his newspapers– insist on styling him following some serious kowtowing to the British establishment). He was briefly Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ireland while living as an overseas tax exile (you couldn’t make this stuff up) and more recently threw a few quid into the campaign fund of Mary Davis in her disastrous candidacy for the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann. However, in the last few years most of the focus has been on his, er, business dealings.

It is often said that we get the politicians we deserve. Perhaps the same can be said of the news media too.

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