Why I think O'Brien is not a fit person to control INM
DENIS O’BRIEN wrote two letters to me, one on June 21st last, the other on July 20th, the latter in response to an email from me on July 8th. The first of these letters contained a threat to sue me personally, if, in his view, I defamed him in further references to the findings of the Moriarty tribunal report. The second raised a few interesting issues to do with the control of the media.
In response to a point I had made about the necessity for a plurality of media ownership and control, he wrote in the second letter: “Perhaps you might like to consider that since the media finds it increasingly difficult to make a profit, it requires owners who can make money elsewhere to effectively subsidise important journalistic activities. Once they do so at an appropriate distance from editorial matters there shouldn’t be a problem.”
He continued: “I am keenly aware of the influence that has been brought to bear in certain elements of the Irish media, having borne the brunt of agenda setting over the past 10 years . That experience has reinforced my understanding of the responsibility that rests with media owners not to interfere with editorial content.”
Denis O’Brien is certainly right in his suspicions about how his predecessor as controller of Independent News Media, Tony O’Reilly, used his position to interfere directly with editorial policy. Prior to the 2007 general election, the Sunday Independent pursued a relentless campaign against the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, then immediately following a private meeting between Tony O’Reilly and Bertie Ahern, the line changed direction 180 degrees. The claims by the Sunday Independent now that such interference never occurred are plainly false.
But would Denis O’Brien be any different and how credible is his position that controllers of the media should act “at an appropriate distance from editorial matters” and his understanding “of the responsibility that rests with media owners not to interfere with editorial content”?
Courtesy of leaked Independent News Media memos (available on the broadsheet.iewebsite), we know of how Denis O’Brien tried to interfere directly with editorial policy. Gavin O’Reilly, the recently deposed chief executive of INM, recorded, in a series of memos and communications, conversations he had with one of Denis O’Brien’s then representatives on the board of INM, Leslie Buckley.
On October 29th, 2010, Leslie Buckley contacted Gavin O’Reilly following a conversation Leslie Buckley had had with Denis O’Brien who, according to Leslie Buckley, was “very upset with [journalist] Sam Smyth”.
Denis O’Brien alleged Sam Smyth was conducting “almost a vendetta” against him. He wanted to know whether Sam Smyth could be taken off the story of the Moriarty tribunal and moved on to something else. Leslie Buckley said Sam Smyth’s piece in that morning’s Irish Independent was okay but his performance on the previous Tuesday night’s Prime Time programme was “aggressive” and “hostile”.