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Richard Bruton told BAI the Communicorp ban was 'antithetical to a free and open press'

The Communications Minister said it was a matter of “grave concern” that some journalists had been banned from radio stations.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS Richard Bruton said that the Communicorp ban imposed on some journalists from appearing on its radio stations appeared to be “antithetical to the concept of a free and open press”.

In 2017, Communicorp banned journalists from Irish Times from appearing on its stations, after columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote an opinion piece about controversial comments made by one of Newstalk’s high-profile presenters, George Hook. Hook no longer works at the station. 

In September, an email was sent to Communicorp staff to instruct them not to invite journalists from the new business site The Currency because it was “a competitor platform”. 

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland said, however, that it wouldn’t be “appropriate for the BAI to interfere with, or direct the editorial decisions of, broadcasters in respect of coverage of news and current affairs content”.

In a letter to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland dated 31 October, the Minister said that the ban “on the face of it, appears to be antithetical to the concept of a free and open press”.

“Contrary to the principle of media pluralism, the banning of journalists from certain radio stations may result in a skewed public discourse where certain viewpoints are excluded or underrepresented.”

Richard Bruton Source: Department of Communications/FOI

The Minister stated:

While the BAI’s position on this matter is understood, it is of grave concern to the government that a number of journalists have been banned from certain radio stations solely on the basis of the organisation that they happen to be employed by.

“Section 25(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 sets out that an objective of the Authority is to ensure ‘the provision of open and pluralistic broadcasting services’.

“In line with the spirit of this objective, I encourage the Authority to take any appropriate action that would enable Communicorp Group Limited and the media outlets affected by the ban to find a resolution to this latter.”

In other correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under a Freedom of Information request, an official at the Department for Communications said that the BAI’s explanation on what it “can and cannot do was fairly comprehensive”.

The statement outlined a number of its legislative powers, duties, and recent changes that had taken place.

It also said that it “notes that CGL has previously indicated a willingness to engage with The Irish Times with a purpose of resolving the issue between the parties. The BAI would encourage both parties to consider entering into discussions to seek a resolution to the matter”.

A separate Department official said on 27 September that the BAI had considered including a line about both parties “entering discussions to seek a resolution to the matter”, but they didn’t as they felt “it wasn’t necessary at this time”. 

Communicorp, which is owned by businessman Denis O’Brien, owns stations such as Newstalk, Today FM, Dublin’s 98FM and Spin 1038.

Earlier this year, Denis O’Brien lost a legal case he took against the Sunday Business Post over newspaper articles written by Tom Lyons and published when Ian Kehoe was editor. Tom Lyons is now the CEO of The Currency, and Ian Kehoe is its editor.

There is no indication that O’Brien had any involvement with the email sent from Communicorp management to its staff calling for the journalists’ ban. 

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