Senators raise issue of Smyth removal from Today FM

 

TODAY FM chief executive Willie O’Reilly has said he would have resigned if station owner Denis O’Brien had interfered in his decision to remove presenter Sam Smyth.

Mr O’Reilly said critics of the decision were confusing his ability to run the station with the issue of media ownership.

It has been claimed that Mr Smyth’s removal was linked to a libel action taken against him by Mr O’Brien arising out of the investigations of the Moriarty tribunal.

Mr Smyth is to be replaced as presenter of the Sunday Supplementshow after 14 years by Anton Savage from November.

Mr O’Reilly said the removal of Today FM’s longest standing presenter was part of his overall plans to change the station, recover lost ground and attract a younger demographic.

“I will be making more changes in the next seven months. I want to run a radio station that is fit for purpose, that is new and exciting,” he said.

“Is Sam supposed to be sacrosanct because he has a difficult relationship with the shareholder?” he asked.

“If Denis wanted to remove Sam he could have done so before the publication of the Moriarty Tribunal . Had he done so I would have walked.”

The issue of Mr Smyth’s removal was raised by several senators during a debate in the Seanad yesterday.

Labour Senator John Whelan who initiated the debate said Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte should come into the chamber to speak about the issue of media ownership.

Senator Whelan said the removal raised fundamental questions about media freedom in Ireland.

Seanad leader Maurice Cummins said he would ask the Minister to address senators in relation to the issue.

The board of Today FM, which includes Mr O’Reilly, issued a statement at the weekend saying that Mr Smyth was removed because of declining listenership figures.

The official Ipsos MRBI JNLR figures show the number of listeners to the Sunday Supplementprogramme declined by 15.5 per cent between June 2008 and June 2011. However, in the same three-year period, Today FM’s listenership declined by 23 per cent from a daily weekday average of 109,000 in 2008 to 84,000 this year, according to the national stations primetime adult average quarter hour audience which are part of the JNLRs.

The Sunday Supplementdecline has been most pronounced in the last year when it lost 10.5 per cent of its listeners between June 2010 and June 2011, from 62,000 to 55,500.

Mediaworks Ltd managing director Paul Moran, who buys radio advertising on behalf of clients, said Mr Smyth’s listenership had been overwhelmingly younger listeners between the ages of 25 and 44 so his replacement by Anton Savage, who is within that age group, might appeal to the current Today FM listener demographic.