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Senator lashes lack of media solidarity for Sam Smyth

Labour senator John Whelan criticises members of the media for not offering public support to Today FM’s Sam Smyth.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A LABOUR PARTY SENATOR has criticised members of the media for not showing more public solidarity to Today FM’s Sam Smyth, who is to be dropped by the station.

Senator John Whelan this morning criticised press commentators for their failure to publicly support Smyth since it was reported that his Sunday morning show was to be dropped from the station’s schedule.

“Press freedom and fair comment are a cornerstone and fundamental values of our democracy,” he said. “Fair comment in the public interest is a pillar of a real republic.”

It was reported in Sunday newspapers that Smyth was to be dropped from the station, which is owned by media and telecoms magnate Denis O’Brien – with the Sunday Times reporting that Smyth had protested that the move was related to his coverage of the Moriarty Tribunal.

That tribunal, which investigated the awarding of Ireland’s second mobile phone licence to O’Brien’s Esat Digifone, was prompted after reporting by Smyth published in the Irish Independent – which is also now majority owned by O’Brien.

George Hook of Newstalk – which is also owned by O’Brien’s Communicorp broadcasting empire – told listeners through Twitter that he did not think the matter was worthy of bringing up in an interview with Communications minister Pat Rabbitte.

“The minister cannot interfere in an employment situation,” Hook tweeted.

On Sunday morning, however, Newstalk’s Eamon Dunphy made a brief statement on his own show – which clashes with Smyth’s Today FM show - defending his Communicorp colleague.

“If there’s any link between that sacking and his work as a journalist for the Independent newspaper group… it is up to every citizen in this country to understand that press freedom is threatened,” he said.

“My personal opinion is that there is a link, that it is dangerous, and that this should not have happened.”

Dunphy also noted that Smyth was now in “a very bad position”, as he could not seek a move to the alternative commercial broadcaster – “because this is it, and it’s also owned by Denis O’Brien.”

Smyth himself declined to discuss the matter on his show, saying any on-air discussion about O’Brien needed the prior approval of the station management.

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Gavan Reilly

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