Government backs retention of Rusbridger on media commission

Minister says decision was ‘not arrived at lightly’ after criticism from Máiría Cahill

Alan Rusbridger, former editor of Guardian Newspapers. Commission has unanimously agreed to support Rusbridger’s continued membership. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Alan Rusbridger, former editor of Guardian Newspapers. Commission has unanimously agreed to support Rusbridger’s continued membership. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

 

The Government has decided to retain former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on the Future of Media Commission.

The decision was made after the commission on Tuesday unanimously agreed to support his continued membership.

There had been calls by Máiría Cahill and politicians, including Labour leader Alan Kelly and Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty, for Rusbridger to leave the role due to an article by Roy Greenslade published about Ms Cahill in the Guardian during Rusbridger’s tenure.

However, the Commission on Tuesday unanimously agreed that Rusbridger should stay in the role.

A short time later, Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin issued a statement, saying: “In discussions with An Taoiseach, who in turn has discussed the matter with the other coalition party leaders, we have, on balance, come to a view that Alan Rusbridger should remain on the Future of Media Commission.

“We accept that this will come as a disappointment for Máiría Cahill and we have not arrived at this conclusion lightly.”

In her statement, Ms Martin said: “As I have already stated publicly, I am appalled at the abuse suffered by Máiría Cahill and the subsequent horrendous ordeal that she had to endure. The actions of Roy Greenslade in seeking to undermine Ms Cahill by questioning her motives, while failing to reveal his own allegiances, were abhorrent.

“I have reflected on the serious issues raised by Máiría Cahill in her engagement with both myself and An Taoiseach. I have also noted the apology issued by Alan Rusbridger, today’s statement by the Future of Media Commission and correspondence which I received this morning from Mr Rusbridger in which he states that he was not aware of Roy Greenslade’s blog post when it was published nor of subsequent legal correspondence with The Guardian on behalf of Ms Cahill.”

Ms Martin said: “The Future of Media Commission is an independent group, established by Government last year following a commitment in the Programme for Government.

“Its members were carefully selected for the international, national and local experience and perspectives they bring to the Future of Media Commission. Its terms of reference relate to how public service aims should be delivered by the media in Ireland over the next ten years and ultimately to chart a course for the future of a strong and vibrant media in Ireland.

“This work is critical and The Future of Media Commission has already met eight times, including three thematic dialogues in which hundreds of citizens have participated, and accepted approximately 850 submissions as part of their public consultation. It is due to conclude in the coming months.

“The Future of Media Commission has stated that the issues of media transparency and standards that Máiría Cahill has raised will continue to form part of its ongoing work.”

In its statement earlier, the commission said: “We believe that it was important for Alan and The Guardian to apologise to Máiría Cahill, who has exposed important issues of media standards and transparency.”

It added: “These issues will continue to form part of the Commission’s ongoing work.”

Ms Cahill had criticised the commission’s declaration of support for Rusbridger, saying on Twitter: “It is appalling the Commission posted this in advance of me hearing a decision back from the Minister”.

Responding to the commission announcement, Ms Doherty said Rusbridger “will now be the story of everything the Commission tries to do”.

She posted on Twitter: “He should consider his own position and the job of work of the Commission and step aside.”

Senator Malcom Byrne (Fianna Fáil), a member of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Arts and Media, has called for Rusbridger to attend the committee and set out his knowledge of Greenslade’s affiliations.

Spotlight

Ms Cahill told a BBC Spotlight programme in 2014 that as a teenager she was raped by an IRA member and that the IRA had sought to cover up the assault.

She subsequently complained to the Guardian about a piece written by former Greenslade, who recently publicly declared himself to be a supporter of the IRA’s campaign of violence.

Rusbridger, a former Guardian editor, issued another apology on Monday night for publishing Greenslade’s article, in which Greenslade had questioned Ms Cahill’s motive for speaking out at the time.

Saying while he knew then that Greenslade was a supporter of Sinn Féin, Rusbridger said he had not known he supported the IRA’s campaign. “I wish I’d known. I wouldn’t have published it now and I’m sorry,” he told The Irish Times.

In an email to Ms Cahill yesterday, Ms Martin said she was “treating this matter with the utmost seriousness and continues to consult with colleagues and will be in touch with you again in the coming days”.

The Future of Media Commission – where Rusbridger has chaired Zoom-held sessions – was appointed by the Government in September 2020 and is due to furnish its report in the next few months.

Complain

Ms Cahill’s lawyers complained about the Greenslade article at the time and the matter was sent by the newspaper’s lawyers to the then Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott, though it was not brought to Rusbridger’s attention.

Elliott said he could not “see grounds for suggesting that the article has a number of significant factual inaccuracies”.

However, Rusbridger has now apologised “both for the article and for the upset it must have caused her” because the article “spectacularly fails on transparency grounds”.

Repeating her call for Rusbridger’s resignation from the commission on Monday, Ms Cahill said it would advise “other media organisations on scrutiny and ethics and planning the future for the Irish media”.

“If I was an editor or a journalist and was taking advice from Alan Rusbridger on transparency and ethics, I think I would have a problem with that. Unless Alan is living on Mars, I don’t know how he was not aware,” she said.