Radio station chief says he won’t ‘negotiate freedom of the press’ with Wexford council

The managing director of South East Radio said he would not “negotiate freedom of the press” with Wexford County Council.

In the latest development in an extraordinary row between the two organisations, chief executive Eamonn Buttle has criticized the way Wexford advisers responded to a recent email.

At a meeting on Monday, the council discussed a report in The Irish Times which revealed how the council’s county secretary, David Minogue, in an email to Mr Buttle in March, tried to establish ‘criteria’ governing the station’s coverage of the council as part of an agreement on the council’s proposed spending of up to €50,000 on advertising with the station this year.

Mr Buttle, in a statement to The Irish Times, said he was ‘amazed by the lack of clear revulsion’ expressed by advisers at the meeting regarding Mr Minogue’s email.

Some councilors showed a clear lack of understanding of the core issue, namely the council’s interference in South East Radio’s editorial policy, Mr Buttle said.

At the council meeting, Mr Minogue said he had written the email in his own name, not on behalf of the council’s chief executive, Tom Enright, who was criticized in January by the Commission of Public Service Standards (Sipo) for attempting to use council advertising spending to lobby the station for a sequel in 2019 over the station’s coverage of council affairs.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr Minogue said he was ‘unfortunate’ that his email, which aimed to create a better working relationship with South East Radio, had been ‘misinterpreted’ so that he had the opposite effect.

He apologized to councilors that his ‘well-intentioned efforts’ had led to public controversy and said he hoped to meet Mr Buttle ‘to establish a solid foundation for a renewed professional working relationship between the council and South East Radio”.

January meeting

Mr Buttle, in criticizing councilors’ response at Monday’s meeting, said it was all the more surprising given that the council met in January to consider the Sipo report which criticized Mr Enright.

During that meeting in January, councilors decided not to sanction Mr. Enright in response to the Sipo’s findings and, after the meeting, gave him a standing ovation.

Mr Buttle, who is a shareholder in South East Radio, said while board chair Barbara-Anne Murphy had said all parties needed to draw a line under things and put an agreement in place, “I want to do it is perfectly clear that in no case will I negotiate freedom of the press”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was of the view that a council should not seek to influence the editorial content of a local radio station through its advertising expenditure.

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