“This concludes the AGM of NOT Independent News & Media” James Osborne, former chairman of Independent News and Media (IN&M), who was voted out of office on 8th June 2012
The evidence of the insidious progress of businessman Denis O’Brien in influencing, coercing and suppressing Ireland’s media grows with every passing week. On Wednesday last, Vincent Browne claimed that journalist Sam Smyth has been ostracised at the Independent News and Media group, where he was a regular writer for the Independent, whose editor is Gerry O’Regan, and Sam’s last report was at the end of May 2012 – he’s been apparently sidelined since then, according to Vincent.
Sam Smyth was previously the subject of a cack-handed demand by Denis O’Brien’s associate Leslie Buckley to the former CEO of IN&M who wanted Sam removed from reporting on the Moriarty Tribunal, the tribunal which ultimately reached “adverse findings” in relation to Denis O’Brien in the award of a mobile phone license in 1995. The broadsheet.ie website has published former IN&M CEO Gavin O’Reilly’s record of the incident. Sam subsequently lost his job on Today FM, a radio station owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp.
Today in the Sunday Independent, in what appears to be brave defiance by editor Anne Harris, there is an interview with former IN&M chairman, James Osborne, there are stark claims that Denis O’Brien sought to suppress an article which was – eventually (see below) – published on 15th April, 2012. The article – available here – detailed Anglo Irish Bank’s largest borrowers as at March 2009, of which Denis was one. The article said
“Denis O’Brien, the telecoms entrepreneur, is listed as owing Anglo Irish Bank €833.8m on foot of personal and corporate loans just after the bank was nationalised in 2009, making him its then sixth largest borrower. Mr O’Brien has over the past three years reduced his borrowings to under €500m using cash generated by his Caribbean and Pacific-based mobile phone empire.” The article continues but it is indeed innocuous stuff.
Today James Osborne is quoted as saying “As you know — as you wrote in your paper on April 7, which was a Saturday, at about one o’clock I got a call from Denis… then he said “they’ve been on to me, there’s an article in tomorrow’s paper and I want it withdrawn” — and I said “I’m sorry, not me. I’m an independent non-executive chairman and I’m not doing that, I’m not going to interfere in an editorial”, and we had an argument about it….I mean could you imagine if I had rung you [Anne Harris] up, at that stage I had only met you at your husband’s funeral, and said: “Hello, I’m your chairman,” — you must be thrilled to get this call on a Saturday afternoon — “There’s an article about Denis O’Brien which was about the 13 biggest borrowers in Anglo, I want it out.” Actually the article was innocuous, there was nothing in it.”
It seems that James got the call from Denis on 7th April, 2012 which was a Saturday and it seems the Anglo Top 13 borrowers story was to appear in the Sunday Independent the following day which was Sunday 8th April, 2012. In fact, the story didn’t appear until the following week, the 15th April, 2012, which is odd and might suggest questions as to whether the story due for publication on 8th was modified before its actual publication on 15th. Anne Harris did refer to this incident in an article on 17th June, 2012, but the full details couldn’t emerge until James Osborne could talk freely about the matter.
So now we have at least two credible claims of Denis O’Brien seeking to suppress reporting in Ireland’s biggest print media group, a group in which he now owns 30% of the shares and has substantial control over the board. It seems that the second attempt at editorial interference is denied by a representative of Denis O’Brien, in response to which James Osborne today says “and I know Denis’s representative — or whoever — has denied that the call took place, but if he denies that the call took place that is a straight forward lie”
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland recently – bizarrely – concluded that “Mr. O’Brien’s interests in Independent News and Media (“IN&M”) are relevant to the Authority in the context of its statutory obligation to consider “the desirability of allowing any person, or group of persons, to have control of, or substantial interests in, an undue amount of communications media” in an area. In this regard, the Authority was obliged to consider the changes in Mr. O’Brien’s interests in IN&M to determine whether the changes amounted to “substantial interest” or “control” as those terms are defined in the Policy. At its meeting on 23rd July 2012 the Authority determined that Mr. O’Brien does not control IN&M. Rather he has a substantial interest in the Company, as that term is defined in the Policy. In this regard, the Authority was not obliged to review Mr. O’Brien’s interests in the context of an undue amount of communications media.”
The nine members of the Authority are Bob Collins (Chairperson), Larry Bass, Paula Downey, Professor Colum Kenny, Michelle Mc Shortall, Dr Maria Moloney, Michael Moriarty, Siobhán Ní Ghadhra and John Waters.
It is high time that the Authority was summoned before an Oireachtas committee – presumably the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications – to justify itself.