The continuing row between journalist Sam Smyth and media owner Denis O’Brien took a further twist yesterday when Mr Smyth took exception to the view expressed by Today FM CEO Peter McPartlin that his enforced departure from the radio station was due to falling listener figures and not because of influence exercised by Mr O’Brien.
In a letter to The Irish Times, Mr Smyth questioneds Mr McPartlin’s capacity to make such comments, saying that as he was not employed by Today FM when the journalist left in 2011, “he has no direct and contemporaneous knowledge of the circumstances that led to my departure”.
A preceding letter by Mr McPartlin was written in response to an inference by columnist Vincent Browne that Mr Smyth’s departure was part of a campaign conducted against him by Mr O’Brien and Leslie Buckley, the media owner’s representative on the board on INM, which publishes the Irish Independent.
Mr McPartlin wrote: “For the record, Sam Smyth was replaced in November 2011 because of the ongoing fall in audience numbers. The latest JNLR figures show that his replacement, Anton Savage, has grown audience numbers by 22,000 to 122,000 in the first six months of the show.”
Mr Smyth said he regretted having to revisit the circumstances of his leaving Today FM but Mr McPartlin’s comments left him no option. While he conceded the number of people tuning into his programme had fallen, he said they had not fallen as much as overall listenership figures.
Mr Smyth wrote: “Mr McPartlin was not employed by Today FM when I left in October 2011 and therefore he has no direct and contemporaneous knowledge of the circumstances that led to my departure.”
He then went on to describe those circumstances.
“In early 2011 I gave a copy of preliminary findings of the Moriarty Tribunal to Willie O’Reilly, the then chief executive of Today FM. This followed a series of discussions with him about how damaging the tribunal report could be to the owner of the station, Denis O’Brien.
“I pointed out to Mr O’Reilly that owning more of the Irish media than any other individual, Mr O’Brien should, in theory at least, be more sympathetic to airing the views of those who might disagree with him. Mr O’Reilly decided that it would be in both his and my best interests to avoid any discussion about Mr O’Brien, or any of his business interests, on Today FM without first clearing it with him.
“Mr O’Reilly also told me that Mr O’Brien’s people had been angry when the Moriarty Tribunal was raised as a topic on the Sam Smyth on Sunday programme.
“I received the first letter from Today FM raising the issue of ending the programme on March 22, 2011, the same day that the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal was unexpectedly published.
“On that same day, I showed the letter to John McColgan, the chairman of Today FM, and he told me that after the findings of the tribunal, I should ignore it. When a number of newspapers made enquiries later that week about my being dropped from Today FM at Mr O’Brien’s insistence, I asked Mr O’Reilly about the status of the letter; he said that it was ‘as if it hadn’t been written’.
“I also spoke to Mr O’Reilly about Denis O’Brien writing to me at my home threatening to sue me personally.
“The listening figures for Today FM as a station were dropping and independent analysis showed that the number of people tuning in to the Sam Smyth on Sunday programme was falling less than the numbers who had stopped listening to the station.
“When the controversy over the publishing of the Moriarty tribunal subsided in late summer last year, Mr O’Reilly resurrected the prospect of dropping the Sam Smyth on Sunday programme. The station was doing root and branch change in programming, he said. Sam Smyth on Sunday was dropped in October last year. It was the only major change in programming on Today FM.
“Mr McPartlin declared his letter to be the (sic) ‘for the record’. I would appreciate if you could attach this letter to that record.”
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