Radio station chief says he will not ‘negotiate freedom of the press’ with Wexford council

Eamonn Buttle criticises response of councillors to email in latest development in row

The managing director of South East Radio has said he will not be "negotiating the freedom of the press" with Wexford County Council.

In the latest development in an extraordinary row between the two organisations, managing director Eamonn Buttle has criticised how Wexford's councillors have responded to a recent email.

At a meeting on Monday, the council discussed a report in The Irish Times that revealed how the council's county secretary, David Minogue, in an email to Mr Buttle in March, tried to establish "criteria" governing the station's coverage of the council as part of an agreement over the council's proposed spend of up to €50,000 on advertising with the station this year.

Mr Buttle, in a statement issued to The Irish Times, said he was “astonished by the lack of clear revulsion” expressed by councillors at the meeting regarding Mr Minogue’s email.

Some councillors had demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the central issue, which was the interference of the council with the editorial policy of South East Radio, Mr Buttle said.

During the council meeting, Mr Minogue said that he had written the email on his own behalf, and not on behalf of the council chief executive, Tom Enright, who was criticised in January by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) for trying to use the council's advertising spend to put pressure on the station in a row in 2019 over the station's coverage of council affairs.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr Minogue said it was “unfortunate” that his email, which was intended to create an improved working relationship with South East Radio, had been “misinterpreted” so that it had the opposite effect.

He apologised to councillors that his “well-intentioned efforts” had led to public controversy and said he hoped to meet Mr Buttle “to establish a sound basis for a renewed professional working relationship between the council and South East Radio”.

January meeting

Mr Buttle, in criticising the response of councillors at Monday’s meeting, said it was all the more surprising given that the council had met in January to consider the Sipo report that was critical of Mr Enright.

During that meeting in January, the councillors decided not to sanction Mr Enright in response to the Sipo findings, and after the meeting gave him a standing ovation.

Mr Buttle, who is a shareholder in South East Radio, said that while the chair of the council, Barbara-Anne Murphy, had said that all parties needed to draw a line under things and get an agreement in place, “I wish to make it abundantly clear that under no circumstances will I be negotiating the freedom of the press”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it is his view that a council should not seek to influence the editorial content of a local radio station by way of its advertising spend.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent

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