Today FM says decision to drop Smyth from show is not linked to court case


TODAY FM has rejected claims that the decision to drop presenter Sam Smyth is linked to a court action taken against the journalist by the station’s controller businessman Denis O’Brien.

The radio station announced yesterday that Smyth, who has been a presenter at Today FM and its predecessor Radio Ireland for 14 years, is to be replaced by Anton Savage.

The National Union of Journalists has criticised the decision, saying it raised questions about the editorial independence of the station.

Smyth is reported to be considering taking legal action against the radio station.

A statement from the Today FM board issued yesterday afternoon said that it fully supported the decision by chief executive Willie O’Reilly to drop Smyth but denied it had anything to do with the journalist’s relationship to Mr O’Brien.

The board said it had issued the statement in response to “false and misleading media speculation” about its decision to replace the presenter.

“The board wishes to state the decision in relation to the Sunday Show has been taken to address the decline in listenership over several years,” it said.

“The board fully endorses this and other decisions taken by the chief executive Willie O’Reilly in relation to programming. These decisions are essential to ensure the commercial viability of Today FM and maintain its strong positioning in the national radio market.”

Earlier this month Smyth was awarded legal costs in the tens of thousands against Michael Lowry following his successful defence of a defamation action against him by the Tipperary North TD, arising from reports linked to the Moriarty tribunal.

Mr O’Brien is also pursuing legal action against the journalist over comments he made on the TV3 show Tonight with Vincent Browne, and in an article in the Irish Independent.

The tribunal’s second and final report, which was published in March, found that Mr Lowry had assisted Mr O’Brien in his bid to secure a mobile phone contract for Esat Digifone.

At the start of his show yesterday, Smyth said he had been instructed by management not to mention the decision to axe the show. When one of his guests did attempt to bring up the issue the presenter said, “before someone comes downstairs and pulls a wire we better move onto something else”.

In addition to Today FM, Mr O’Brien’s Communicorp Group owns a number of other radio stations in Ireland including Dublin’s 98, Newstalk and Spin 1038.

He is a shareholder in Independent News Media, which publishes the Irish Independent, where Smyth also works.

Attempts yesterday to contact Mr O’Brien for comment were unsuccessful.