Authority to examine radio ban on ‘Irish Times’ journalists

Decision by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp in response to O’Toole column under spotlight

Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp is the parent company of Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM and Spin, from which all ‘Irish Times’ journalists have been banned under an edict. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp is the parent company of Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM and Spin, from which all ‘Irish Times’ journalists have been banned under an edict. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp radio stations’ blanket ban on Irish Times journalists is to be discussed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland when it meets on Thursday morning.

The ban is listed on the agenda for the Authority’s regular monthly meeting as “discussion on Communicorp” without indicating whether any proposal is expected to be tabled for consideration.

It will also discuss a response it has received from Communicorp to a request by the authority, made the day after the ban was announced, for the company to “clarify a number of matters in respect of editorial independence and the contractual commitments of individual services”.

The authority would not say last night what the response had been.

Communicorp is the parent company of several radio stations, including Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM and Spin, from which all Irish Times journalists have been banned under an edict issued on October 5th by Communicorp chief executive and board member Adrian Serle.

In a statement to staff at the radio stations, Mr Serle took issue with an opinion column by Fintan O’Toole, published in The Irish Times on September 12th, in which O’Toole described Newstalk as “staggeringly and systematically sexist” and said he would no longer appear on any of its programmes.

The column was in response to comments on air by one of the station’s presenters, George Hook, implying that a women rape victim was partly to blame for what had befallen her. Both Hook and Newstalk later apologised for the comments.

Newstalk managing editor Patricia Monahan replied to O’Toole, on September 16th, in an Irish Times article rejecting his view, which she described as “outrageously unfair”.

Mr Serle reopened the controversy with his October 5th statement to staff in which he charged that O’Toole’s comments were “vulgar, outrageous, disrespectful and wrong”.

“They do not reflect the behaviours and ethics of the brilliant people I know who drive our stations forward every day,” he said, adding that he had also requested an apology for the column.

Irish Times editor Paul O’Neill said O’Toole was entitled to his opinion (for which there would be no apology) and that it was a matter for Communicorp as to who was invited on to its programmes.

‘Ridiculous’

It is not clear what action, if any, the BAI can take on foot of the blanket ban which has upset some staff in Newstalk and Today FM, some of them describing it privately as “ridiculous” and “embarrassing” and saying it was an unwarranted restriction of their independence.

The BAI licences television and radio stations. It imposes targets and goals, and polices adherence to its code of “fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs”, adjudicating complaints from viewers and listeners.

The authority has nine members, who hold their positions for fixed terms, five of whom are appointed by the government, the remainder by the joint Oireachtas committee for communications.

The authority also has a number of sub-committees, two of which are statutory. One of them, the compliance committee, monitors and enforces adherence to the terms of a broadcasting licence and to the code. Any examination of Communicorp’s licences will take into account differences between those given to Newstalk and Today FM and the blanket nature of the ban.