Smyth Sacking Sparks Suspicion

Always a git for alliteration, Padraig McCarrick reports on the sacking of journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth from Today FM.

The journalistic and broadcasting career of Sam Smyth is in serious doubt after he was sacked from his ‘Sunday Supplement’ slot on Today FM. He is to be replaced by public relations expert and part-time presenter Anton Savage in a “lifestyle and current affairs show” says Today FM chief executive Willie O’Reilly. In the media over the weekend, the board of the station has denied claims that the dropping of Smyth from the station’s programming has anything to do with the journalists work on the Moriarty Tribunal, which the station’s owner, Denis O’Brien is deeply involved in.
Since the Tribunal began in in 1997, Smyth, an investigative journalist, has been covering and reporting the events surrounding allegations that O’Brien had made payments to then Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications Michael Lowry prior to the awarding of the second mobile phone license to Esat Digifone. Smyth recently successfully defended himself in a defamation suit brought forward by Mr. Lowry.

Today FM station owner, Denis O'Brien

The recent events suggest that the sacking is an attempt by O’Brien to remove Smyth, as his own suit against the journalist and the Independent News & Media group is under way. This suit is in relation to 2010 article written in relation to O’Brien and the tribunal.

Further more, O’Brien is a major shareholder in Independent News and Media and has been accused in the past of using his long term business associate Leslie Buckley in an attempt to alter the newspapers reporting of the tribunal.

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the sacking of Mr. Smyth saying “fundamental questions about the editorial independence of the station and would again bring into sharp focus issues relating to the ownership and control of the media, print and broadcasting in Ireland”. Smyth’s status at the newspaper has yet to be commented on.

This sentiment seems to be held by many in the media with Eamon Dunphy, who hosts a show at the same time on O’Briens other station Newstalk, who said that it’s an extremely serious issue for journalists in this country and says a lot about the state of press freedom in Ireland. He also questioned the level of commitment that the government had in this area.

-Padraig McCarrick

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