Radio station accuses council of providing adverts in return for presenters not expressing opinions

The managing director of a Wexford radio station has described as “staggering” a suggestion by Wexford County Council that it agree its presenters wouldn’t categorical private opinions on air in return for the council taking out promoting on the station.

The suggestion is considered one of a quantity made by the county secretary, David Minogue, in an e-mail to the managing director of South East Radio, Eamonn Buttle, throughout discussions over a proposed €40,000-€50,000 spend this 12 months by the council on promoting with the station.

In January the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) issued a report through which it criticised Tom Enright, chief government of Wexford County Council, for placing “unwarranted” strain on South East Radio throughout a 2019 row about protection of the council by the station, and particularly by considered one of its presenters, native businessman Karl Fitzpatrick.

By threatening to withdraw council promoting from the station throughout the row, Sipo mentioned, Enright had breached the provisions of the Local Government Act and failed to keep up correct requirements of integrity.

The public ethics physique mentioned Enright had wrongly conflated the difficulty of his dispute with the station over its protection of the council, and the council’s business place because the station’s major advertiser.

The Sipo report was mentioned by a particular assembly of the council in January, throughout which councillors criticised the general public ethics physique earlier than voting to take no motion on foot of its report. The councillors then gave the county supervisor a standing ovation.

In February the council’s choice to take no motion was raised within the Dáil by Wexford TD Verona Murphy, who mentioned the “message is that we will all do what we like … There was no impact. [The report] made no difference. He got a standing ovation and a round of applause.”

Minogue mentioned the council “does not consider it appropriate that a South East Radio broadcaster offers personal viewpoints and opinions on South East Radio”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin mentioned he didn’t agree, and that others would be aware of Sipo’s findings. The findings would have “far-reaching impacts” on the long run behaviour of councils.

“There cannot be any attempts to influence the content of any local radio discussion, debate or its treatment or coverage of any issue,” he mentioned.

“Even if there are advertisements that emanate from the council and so on, that is not correct. It can never be used for that purpose by anybody. I am very clear about that.”

Fresh row

However, a row centred on precisely the identical subject has once more developed between Wexford County Council and South East Radio, with the station this time objecting strongly to “criteria” that the county secretary, Minogue, steered needs to be agreed by the station as a part of a deal over a proposed spend of €40,000-€50,000 on radio commercials this 12 months.

Wexford county manager David Minogue
Wexford county supervisor David Minogue

In an e-mail despatched to Buttle on March twenty fifth, Minogue mentioned the council “doesn’t take into account it acceptable {that a} South East Radio broadcaster affords private viewpoints and opinions on South East Radio.

“I ask for assurances that South East Radio will take the steps necessary to ensure such personal views and opinions are not offered by your broadcasters in the future.”

The council government additionally steered that the station be certain that “raw” materials, that means recorded materials not broadcast by the station, be saved for a interval of two years.

“Such material can then be made available for review in the event of a dispute between South East Radio and [the council], so as to determine the appropriateness or otherwise of the presenter/broadcaster omitting content from the final broadcast output.”

A 3rd criterion steered by Minogue involved what would occur when the council sought a proper of reply in relation to one thing that had been broadcast by the station.

“The content of your email is so utterly devoid of any insight or learning from the Sipo investigation”

“I ask that the matter end there, and that the original theme or issue is not raised again on South East Radio, as has happened previously.”

In his response on April 1st, Buttle described what was being steered as “frankly speaking, staggering” and mentioned it was “absolutely necessary” to remind Minogue, and the council, of some essential current occasions.

“I find it very strange indeed that it is necessary for me to do so, given the gravity of those events. But the content of your email is so utterly devoid of any insight or learning from the Sipo investigation that I feel I must spell out some fundamental facts.”

It was outstanding, he mentioned, that Minogue’s e-mail got down to observe the identical course as that adopted by county supervisor Enright in 2019.

Buttle quoted the feedback made within the Dáil by the Taoiseach in February, saying Martin had made his place “abundantly clear in relation to the kind of influence and misuse of power which your email of March 25th seeks to exert”.

‘Profound criticism’

Despite the “profound criticism” that Sipo had product of Enright, and the truth that a separate criticism by the council about South East Radio to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland had been “rejected entirely”, the station had acquired no apology from the county supervisor or the council, Buttle mentioned.

“To the contrary, we are now presented with even more serious attempts aimed at controlling our independence through an express and unashamed attempt to use public funds to influence what is said about [Wexford County Council] and those connected with its operations on South East Radio. This is stunningly wrong.”

He mentioned he was compelled to the conclusion that the standards the council had been looking for to impose had been a “form of retaliation for, and a direct result of” the Sipo criticism that had been submitted by Fitzpatrick, and upheld within the Sipo report in January.

Buttle mentioned the regulator for radio stations was the Broadcasting Authority, and it was not acceptable for the council to hunt to set itself up as a quasi-regulator.

“Our presenters will not be censored in the manner that you seek for the benefit of [Wexford Council Council],” he mentioned.

“I wish to make it abundantly clear that South East Radio will not be surrendering its independence and integrity, for any amount of advertising from Wexford County Council”

Minogue and the council appeared to “fundamentally misunderstand the role of a local authority vis a vis local (or indeed national) media in a democratic society”, Buttle mentioned, earlier than quoting from article 40.6 of the Constitution, which ensures the suitable to freedom of expression.

The council, Buttle mentioned, was looking for to limit open debate and public discourse in relation to the actions of the native authority inside which South East Radio operates.

“In a democratic society, such behaviour cannot and must not be tolerated. South East Radio certainly will not stand for it.”

“Whilst our relationship with [the council], both financial and otherwise, is critically important, I wish to make it abundantly clear that South East Radio will not be surrendering its independence and integrity, for any amount of advertising from Wexford County Council.”

‘Really disappointed’

He mentioned the broadcaster was reserving its place in relation to the county secretary’s e-mail.

Minogue advised The Irish Times that he was “really disappointed” by Buttle’s response. He mentioned he felt it was “not appropriate” given the “reasonable” requests that had been made to the station.

The county secretary is the council’s Ethics Registrar for the aim of complaints made concerning the council below the Local Government Act. He mentioned he was not conscious of any contemporary complaints having been made towards the council in relation to South East Radio.

Buttle didn’t reply to a request for a remark. Following the council assembly in January, when councillors voted to take no motion on foot of the Sipo report, Enright issued a press release through which he mentioned “we intend to look to put a service level agreement in place with South East Radio to facilitate an improved relationship in the future.”

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