An effort by Wexford County Council to ensure presenters of a local radio station would not express personal opinions on air in return for the council taking out advertising has been described as "very hard to comprehend" by the Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
On Saturday The Irish Times reported that in an email on March 25th, the Wexford county secretary, David Minogue, requested that no personal opinions be expressed by broadcasters on South East Radio as part of a proposed agreement on a €40,000-€50,000 spend this year by the council on advertising.
He also asked the station to keep raw, unedited recordings for a period of two years in case any dispute should arise between the council and the station.
The controversy came weeks after the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) issued a report in which it criticised the chief executive of Wexford County Council, Tom Enright, for putting "unwarranted" pressure on South East Radio during a 2019 row about coverage of the council by the station.
The criticism centred on the threat that council advertising would be withdrawn from the station.
Asked about the weekend report, the Taoiseach said that “if that is the case, it would be very difficult to comprehend”.
“One doesn’t need a Sipo report to know that in any executive authority, you do not attempt to intimidate the media or attempt to shape media’s output, or commentary, on the basis that you will withdraw advertising from them, if that is what transpired.
“We are in a free society with a free media and media are entitled to secure advertising in a free market like everybody else. There can be no connection between advertising sponsorship and editorial control. And so I would be very concerned with this.”
In a response to Mr Minogue on April 1st, the managing director of South East Radio, Eamonn Buttle, said its presenters "will not be censored in the manner that you seek for the benefit of [Wexford Council Council]."
“In a democratic society, such behaviour cannot and must not be tolerated. South East Radio certainly will not stand for it.”
At a council meeting on Monday, Mr Minogue read out the content of his email to Mr Buttle, and described Mr Buttle’s responding email as “pretty remarkable”.
Mr Minogue told The Irish Times that since the weekend he had made a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland against South East Radio, because of Mr Buttle’s response to his email and other matters, but now intends to withdraw the complaint.
“I don’t consider that such a complaint would be helpful in the context of building relations [with South East Radio] and for that reason I am withdrawing it. Not for any other.”
The council chairwoman, Barbara Anne Murphy, of Fianna Fáil, said she believes in the freedom of the press and did not believe the council taking advertising should be linked to the station's editorial content.
“I really feel that we need to get back and rebuild our relationship with South East Radio and that’s what we have to do,” she said in an interview on Tuesday with South East Radio’s Morning Mix show.