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Union boss says council needs to 'grow thicker skin' as SE Radio prepares new watchdog complaint

South East Radio is in a war of words with the head of Wexford County Council.

THE NATIONAL UNION of Journalists has said that Wexford County Council, which is accused of putting pressure on the county’s local commercial radio station, needs to “grow a thick skin” and stop “entirely inappropriate” approaches to media.

South East Radio management took the extraordinary step last month to bar the council’s chief executive Tom Enright from entering the station, following an off-air encounter between the public servant and one of its journalists following an interview.

In a letter to the council seen by The Journal, South East Radio alleged that Enright subjected presenter Alan Corcoran to an “unprovoked verbal attack” following the interview.

The station has demanded that Enright apologise to Corcoran.

Seamus Dooley, general secretary of the NUJ, said that Wexford County Council had overstepped the line in this case. 

“Local councils and local council chiefs don’t get to call the shots,” Dooley said.

He added that Wexford County Council needed “to learn from its previous Sipo ruling”. Last year the ethics regulator last year found against Enright for pressuring the radio station over its coverage of the council back in 2019. 

Dooley said the council needed to “come to grips with the reality that there is a radio station in the region which has a license to operate and operates within the law and within regulated standards”.

South East Radio has indicated it will now file another complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) over the recent encounter between its presenter and the council boss.

In his own response to the station, a solicitor for Enright denied that the off-air conversation with Corcoran, who fronts the station’s weekday current affairs Morning Mix programme, could be characterised as the station alleged.

Enright, through his solicitor, claimed that the conversation was “one where both parties spoke frankly and at no time did the exchange become heated”. 

The letter also requested that Enright be allowed entry back to the station – a request yet to be granted by management. 

When contacted for comment on the matter by The Journal, South East Radio said they were unable to do so due to the matter now being referred to Sipo.

Sipo ruling

Early last year Sipo ruled that Enright – who was accused of breaching public office standards by threatening to withdraw funding from the station over what he called “inaccurate and damaging commentary” – had failed to maintain proper standards of integrity and conduct when he sent emails threatening to withdraw advertising.

Enright responded at the time to call the watchdog’s findings “flawed and disproportionate”.

This week, Wexford County Council provided a statement from its various senior managers expressing support for Enright regarding this latest incident. 

It said the role of a local government Chief Executive is challenging and “requires
consensus building amongst diverse groupings and interests for the development” of
the county.

“Mr Enright has exemplified this throughout his term as Chief Executive. The advancements in the county over the past ten years are testament to his hard work and ambition for County Wexford,” it added, calling criticism by the radio station “profoundly sad”.

“We completely understand and value local radio as a vital element in local democracy but equally expect a level of professionalism in their coverage and dealings with all stakeholders.”

NUJ general secretary Dooley told The Journal that South East Radio must be allowed to “operate independent of vested interests”, which he said includes local authorities.

“There will always be tensions between local media and local organisations and in particular statutory agencies and that’s a good thing. But local councils and local council chiefs don’t get to call the shots. 

“It would be entirely inappropriate if there’s an attempt by the CEO or elected members either to influence content or punish any journalist or broadcaster for their programmes.”

Dooley added that any complaints should be dealt with through normal procedures. 

“There can be no place for putting pressure on, either through advertising or by putting direct pressure on individual presenters,” he said. 

GAA board

A further twist arose when the council issued a statement on Tuesday, claiming that Wexford GAA’s county board had complained to the broadcasting authority, Coimisiún na Meán, “in relation to South East Radio”.

The dispute was in relation to broadcasts in June and July of this year. 

However, it has since emerged that the timeframe to adjudicate on the complaint has elapsed as the GAA board did not pursue the complaint beyond initial discussions at the time during the summer. 

“The matter is now considered closed,” the broadcasting commission said. 

In a response to questions from The Journal, Wexford GAA provided a transcript of comments by its chairman Micheál Martin made to its County Convention on Monday night, in which he criticised “pre-recorded and edited interviews” broadcast on the station.

Martin also spoke about the station offering “a platform to vent to those with an axe to grind with Wexford GAA”, and to those who took a “populist view” of the county’s sporting fortunes.

When asked by The Journal if the county board had been in contact with Wexford County Council over the media coverage afforded to both organisations, a spokesperson for the county board denied that had been any contact between the two.

It said it would proceed with attempting to revive the complaint and has requested that the broadcasting authority “adjudicate on our complaint”.

The county board added that while it recognises the role that South East Radio and other media organisations “play in our community to hold a public interest organisation such as ourselves to account”, it feels that “aspects of the coverage” have been unfair.

“We at no point have or will we ever ask that a matter of interest is not covered. What we do ask is that matters are covered in a fair, impartial and objective manner.”

In a response issued to Wexford GAA yesterday, station manager Eamonn Buttle called on chairman Martin to apologise to Corcoran.

He said that he found it “unconscionable” that the board had “chose to target” Corcoran at Monday’s convention, the same day the presenter made public his shock about the encounter with the council’s chief executive.

Buttle said that the broadcaster had provided “legitimate” coverage on Wexford hurling during the summer, adding that it was “fuelled by an appetite amongst listeners who were concerned about the performance” of the senior team at the time.

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