The representative body for the country’s local radio stations is backing South East Radio’s call for an independent investigation into Wexford County Council’s attempts at editorial interference at the station.
The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) has written to Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien asking what action he plans to take in response to the request for the investigation into the council’s attempts to influence the station’s editorial content through its spending on advertising.
The organisation has copied its letter to the Minister for Media Catherine Martin and Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who, commenting recently on the dispute, said local authorities should not use their advertising budgets to try to influence editorial decisions by broadcasters.
Lisa Ní Choisdealbha, executive director of the IBI, which represents 34 local, regional and national radio stations, said: “The fear we have is the impact that this would have on freedom of speech, on editorial interference and other types of businesses and bodies exerting control because they are spending on advertising in radio stations. We want to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
South East Radio managing director Eamonn Buttle has previously said that, since March 2019, the station has been continually subjected to improper influence, legal and financial threats and editorial interference from Wexford County Council. In March, he received an email from the council in which it tried to establish “criteria” governing the station’s coverage of the council as part of an agreement over plans to spend up to €50,000 on advertising with the station this year.
When asked about the IBI’s support, Mr Buttle responded: “I strongly believe that given the gravity of this matter and to ensure that no other media outlet is subjected to this attempt at censorship in the future, an independent investigation is the only mechanism by which these matters can be satisfactorily addressed.”
Mr Buttle also disclosed that council cathaoirleach Barbara-Anne Murphy, a Fianna Fáil councillor, had proposed mediation as a means of addressing the station’s concerns, but Mr Buttle rejected this.
He said he had made it “abundantly clear” to the cathaoirleach that he would “not negotiate the freedom of the press under any circumstances”. Ms Murphy declined to comment. It is understood that she is still considering how to respond to the matter.
In January, the Standards in Public Office Commission criticised council chief executive Tom Enright for trying to use the council’s advertising spend to put pressure on the station in a row in 2019 over its coverage of council affairs. At a subsequent meeting, the councillors decided not to sanction Mr Enright in response to the commission’s findings. After the meeting, they gave him a standing ovation.