Larry Bass says he left RTÉ board to ‘protect business’ after conflict concerns raised

Dancing With The Stars producer told minister he had to resign after contract talks ‘paused’

Larry Bass resigned on September 17th, the day after he attended his first board meeting, and just two months after his appointment.  Photograph: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Larry Bass resigned on September 17th, the day after he attended his first board meeting, and just two months after his appointment. Photograph: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

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Independent TV producer Larry Bass said he had to resign from RTÉ’s board to protect his business after the renewal of his contract to make Dancing With The Stars was questioned by fellow board members.

In his resignation letter to Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin, Mr Bass, chief executive of Shinawil, the company that makes the programme, said it was “truly a shock” to learn that concerns were raised by board members about the contract over a potential conflict of interest as a board member.

Mr Bass resigned on September 17th, the day after he attended his first board meeting, and just two months after his appointment.

He said in his letter that Shinawil’s renewed contract to make the programme was “signed off” by RTÉ during the summer, before he joined the board .

He expressed surprise that after the board meeting, during which he excused himself while the final budget for the programme was discussed, to receive a call from RTÉ chair Moya Doherty to tell him “there was serious concern amongst some board members at the awarding of the contract to Shinawil”.

According to his letter, Ms Doherty told him that the discussion on the renewal of the company’s production contract was “paused” and there was a view on the board that he had a conflict of interest as founder and chief executive of Shinawil and as a consequence there was “a concern” about awarding what he said was the company’s “most important contract” for 2021/22.

The company had, he said, made “very substantial financial commitments” to be able to produce the series including the contracting of a studio to host it. Mr Bass said he was left “in a position where I feel that I cannot continue as a board member”.

“Not only must I protect my business but I must consider the livelihoods of hundreds of staff who depend on productions from RTÉ,” he told the Minister in a partially redacted letter released by her department under Freedom of Information laws. “I feel I have been left with no choice but to withdraw from the position that you offered me.”

Mr Bass, who joined the board on the recommendation of an Oireachtas committee, said that he had told the committee that as a past board member of other State organisations there were “robust industry standard protocols in place” to handle potential conflicts of interest.

“RTÉ has and has had for some considerable time, protocols in place to negate any potential conflicts of interest and the members of the Oireachtas having executed their due diligence, proceeded to endorse my candidacy,” Mr Bass said.

Oireachtas members were “satisfied” that his appointment to the board of the broadcaster “would not compromise the integrity of the board,” he told the minister.

Other significant producers for RTÉ have been board members and it was “not considered to be a conflict” while RTÉ was commissioning content from their production companies, he said.

“In a small country with limited resources, we the people have a choice. Do we want national boards with a degree of content creation and wider industry knowledge or boards bereft of knowledge, particularly in a climate of considerable change in how audiences engage with content?” he wrote.

A spokesman for the board of RTÉ told The Irish Times that it did not comment on boardroom discussions but said that “stringent structures are in place in relation to corporate governance and conflicts of interest.”