RTÉ cancels broadcast of interviews with Higgins and Bono

‘Joe Jackson Tapes Revisited’ pulled from channel schedules amid copyright dispute

Bono at Leopardstown Races, who features in the 20-year-old interviews. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Bono at Leopardstown Races, who features in the 20-year-old interviews. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


A series of documentaries based on 20-year-old interviews with President Michael D Higgins, Bono and Gabriel Byrne were dropped from RTÉ Radio 1’s schedule this week amid concerns over copyright issues.

The series, The Joe Jackson Tapes Revisited, was based on interviews conducted by the journalist with the three public figures when he worked as a freelancer for Hot Press in the 1980s and 1990s.

RTÉ cancelled the broadcasts scheduled for three days of this week after receiving a legal letter from Hot Press just before Christmas.

Hans Zomer, communications adviser to the President, confirmed he asked RTÉ for a copy of the programme on the former Labour politician and was given one, but said he made no representations about it.

Copyright dispute

Mr Higgins and Jackson were long-time contributors to Hot Press in the 1980s and 1990s. Mr Higgins, as minister for arts in the 1990s, appointed the editor, Niall Stokes, as chairman of the Independent Radio and Television Commission.

Jackson asserts his ownership of both the interviews and the tapes as the freelance journalist involved, but this is contested by the magazine.

Stokes said it would be an “abuse of trust” for the interviews to be used without the agreement of the subjects.

“We find it absolutely astonishing that RTÉ would broadcast interviews that were secured, commissioned and published by Hot Press without any reference of any kind at any stage to us,” he said.

‘Hot Press’

Hot Press

Jackson had been engaged to conduct the interviews on behalf of Hot Press and this was done on the understanding that they were for the magazine specifically.

He said the magazine had received legal advice to the effect that RTÉ and Jackson were not entitled to use material without reference to it.

Stokes said that in sending a legal letter to RTÉ, Hot Press was not acting at the behest of any other party, though it has since informed the President, Bono and Byrne of its actions.

Mr Zomer said he first became aware of the programme when RTÉ began advertising what it called a “highly controversial” interview with Mr Higgins conducted in 1993. He contacted the broadcaster and expressed his displeasure that the President had been “left in the dark” about the documentary.

Having listened to the programme, he concluded there wasn’t anything controversial in it and felt the matter had nothing to do with the President and was an issue between the journalist and the original publisher alone.

However, Jackson said there were questions still to be asked over why the programme was pulled at short notice. He pointed out the interviews had been available in book form for many years without any controversy, and that RTÉ began advertising the programmes on December 11th, and nothing happened until December 23rd.