By Patrick Brogan
This initial idea for this article was to focus on the Charleton Inquiry and the testimonies given by members of Independent News and Media. Last night, RTÉ aired a documentary about media mogul Denis O’Brien and this programme mentioned something key to what I was planning to focus on.
We have mentioned O’Brien a lot on this site and podcast over the years and it has rarely focused on the good. While the RTÉ programme was reasonably balanced and highlighted many of O’Brien’s qualities as a good businessman, I can’t help but echo the sentiments of TD Catherine Murphy; he is only in this position because he paid a politician for a mobile phone license.
INM is a company that is deeply conflicted within itself. Although this has been known for a long time, the evidence given by its employees recently at the Charleton Inquiry further highlights this. This civil war stems from something totally unrelated; a takeover bid of Eircom in 2001. On one side was the Valentia Consortium, headed by the O’Reilly clan and on the other was E-Island, headed by DO’B. The O’Reilly clan won this round, but it led to a long-simmering feud between the two factions.
As the show highlighted, after Gavin O’Reilly congratulated Denis O’Brien on his role in the Special Olympics, the latter responded by saying he was “waiting for the appropriate time to rectify the damage”. Rectifying the damage meant taking over INM and pushing the O’Reilly family out the door.
Tony O’Reilly had been at the helm of the company for decades. Understandably, he had built up a loyal workforce in that time. This loyalty intensified when O’Brien came on the scene pushing his weight around. To this day, many of the surviving journalists are deeply critical of O’Brien, including Sunday Independent deputy editor Brendan O’Connor.
This rift might go some way to explaining why members of INM gave very different accounts of the same events when at Dublin Castle. Garda Press Officer Supt Dave Taylor has said he was told to conduct a smear campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe. It is obvious most crime reporters were backing the Gardaí rather than investigating the claims made by McCabe, but is this because they believed he carried out a sexual assault on a child?
Former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris told the inquiry that current Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan told her that Maurice McCabe was a paedophile. Sheahan denies the claims and said he was in favour of giving more coverage to the McCabe story. Who to believe? One of them is clearly lying. Is it the O’Reilly acolyte (Harris) or the O’Brien minion (Sheahan)?
And this is the problem with journalism today; it’s in the hands of vested interests. While we are blessed in this country with journalists of the quality and integrity of Mick Clifford, Gemma O’Doherty, Sam Smyth, Vincent Browne, Ellen Coyne and Justine McCarthy to name just a few, most journalists are just PR people for their bosses firstly and the status quo secondly. Personally, I find it rather pathetic that people are taking sides between two childlike quibbling billionaires. This need to be controlled is scary and just the opposite to what is required to make a good journalist.
It’s funny, in the same week Leo Varadkar criticised the quality of coverage regarding President Trump, I can’t help but think that O’Brien is our Trump. Thin-skinned, greedy, childish and a dedication to a dodgy hairstyle to boot. Varadkar, Trump and O’Brien are all waging a war on quality journalism.
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For further reading; I came across this article by Eamon Dunphy which I thought was really interesting. He talks about the editorial control O’Brien wanted while O’Reilly was far more inclined to protect his journalists than stop them.