Labour Senator John Whelan has called for a Seanad debate on media ownership policies. The development that has brought this issue into focus is the firing of journalist Sam Smyth from Today FM. While the station has claimed that the firing was merely part of a re-organization of the station’s schedule, an attempt “to improve the programming quality and its relevance to audience”, there is widespread suspicion that the station’s controlling shareholder, Denis O’Brien, is behind the decision.
O’Brien is taking legal action (for defamation) against Smyth over comments he made in other outlets about O’Brien’s business activities. The Moriarty Tribunal, into political corruption in Ireland in the 1990s, “found that Mr Lowry had assisted Mr O’Brien in his bid to secure a mobile phone contract for Esat Digifone,” according to the Irish Times.
Journalistic independence from powerful forces is, on some level, a standard that can never be fully achieved – but a diverse media, with a broad range of owners and structures, can help. In this regard, Whelan’s right to draw attention to the recent announcement by Noel Curran, the Director General of public service broadcaster RTÉ, that the network will include investigative journalism as one of its six core areas in the years to come.