Dunphy on O’Brien

By | April 12, 2008

Jaysus, he fairly socks it to Denis in the IT today. Sub reqd but far too long to quote. One flaw: he does rather conveniently exclude the Payback issue. He should have addressed that. Other than that, not good for DOB.

Update: The more I think about it the more I realise how unfair this piece is. For starters, as I first mentioned, Dunphy casually omits the most audacious Indo editorial line: the war they waged against the Rainbow Coalition when John Bruton, despite an explicit threat from senior management at INM, refused to change government policy to suit O’Reilly’s other business interests (close down MMDS operators and enquire into how Denis managed to get one. There was something about planning permission for a mine too, but I forget the details. Suffice to say the list was long but Bruton didn’t buckle and paid the price).

Then he list allegations against O’Brien like

“He doesn’t like hacks to be out of control.”

When? Who?

or derogatory lines like

RICH BOYS LIKE Denis O’Brien aspire to media ownership. Doors open, people listen when you speak, gravitas is conferred way beyond the dreams of merchants.

What was O’Reilly only a rich boy who targeted INM 30 years ago? Has Dunphy just a prejudice against new money, as in 10 years old, instead of 30 or 40?

Then he talks about his own experiences at Newstalk. First he pumps himself up of course…

Although, with a small team of gifted and committed young journalists, we increased audience share exponentially”

Did they? I heard they never got more than about 20,000 listeners, and certainly not many more than they did with David McWilliams. And though he complains that

his people let me know when he wasn’t happy with, say, Robert Fisk, Eamonn McCann, or the various contributors to our business slot.”

He omits to mention that (as far as I heard anyway) his own salary, many multiples of what “his small and gifted team” were earning, was being paid for out of O’Brien’s own pocket, and not Newstalk’s meagre advertising revenue. This despite the fact that there were many many mornings I tuned in and Dunphy simply wasn’t there – he took plenty of weeks off which can’t have helped develop a loyal listenership.

The last straw he says was that :

Newstalk executives lost patience with me over a dispute that may seem insignificant, though I don’t believe it is. The station being a financial basket case, a decision was taken to double the cost to listeners who texted our programme. Loving the interaction with our audience, regarding the texts as a resource, I was shocked to be confronted with the new deal just before I went on air.

Had any other merchant sought to double their costs, we would have gone after them. Now we were proposing to rip off listeners. I told our listeners what was going on and expressed disapproval.

All hell broke loose. “What do you think you’re doing?” the managers wailed when I came out of studio. “Journalism,” I replied. Inquiring later about this get-rich-quick scheme, I was informed about a new revenue stream that was badly needed to pay my wages. The new revenue stream would yield €13,000 a year. I laughed and prepared to pack my bags. All bar one of the outstanding young team of budding journalists left shortly after. O’Brien didn’t care.”

So the managers, not O’Brien were pissed off that he slagged off their new enterprise. And how did he know O’Brien didn’t care? Or if he did, maybe he was right not to, since despite Dunphy’s big salary he failed to deliver an audience and all that hassle with McWilliams was for nothing.

Finally he praises Tony once again saying

INM is not perfect, there are always issues with the reporting of O’Reilly’s own business interests, and the bottom line is a corporate imperative. [ there’s an understatement] But INM journalists are broadly [my emphasis] free, even as they sometimes savage each other. We need look no farther than Bertie Ahern’s recent travails as covered by the Sunday Independent for proof that INM is a broad media church that facilitates Eoghan Harris and Gene Kerrigan.

Well, Kerrigan is the SINDO anomaly while Eoghan is the one that got the job and INM put FF back in power. And now Waterford Wedgwood is asking the government to underwrite loans to keep them afloat. Let’s see how that goes before we praise Sir Tony’s independence from the Indo’s editorial position.

22 thoughts on “Dunphy on O’Brien

  1. Adam

    I think that’s a slightly rose-tinted view of O’Reilly, and a slightly narrow one of O’Brien too I’d bet.

    He also failed to mention another conflict of interest – he currently writes for The Daily Star which is part-owned by INM.

  2. Dermot

    It sounds more like St Anthony rather than Sir Anthony from the piece. Does anyone remember just before the election when Bertie and Cowan paid a visit to Sir Anthony and the Sunday Independant changed its editorial line on the government very quickly. I don’t think you can trust anyone with that amount of power.

  3. Crocodile

    What sort of individual would one like to see owning a media conglomerate? One who values free speech and editorial independence more than any sectional interest, including the business lobby; one with the humility to leave the journalism to the journalists and the editing to the editors; one who will pay the piper but not insist on calling the tune – because you get better music that way. In short, almost anyone would be better than messrs O’Reilly and O’Brien.

  4. Sarah Post author

    On another note, Gerry McCarthy the ST Radio Reviewer had a great column a few weeks ago in which he pointed out that collectively business journalists are pathetically fawning of the executive classes (he was singling out the Morning Ireland business report but alleged all were guilty of it – and he was on the nail). Once a company returns a profit they are assumed to be great. As someone who has worked in corporate Ireland and is familiar with the “real” stories behind a lot of companies, I often laugh to myself at the easy ride the corporates get across the media but in particular from the radio.
    That has nothing to do with who owns what media channel but a) laziness and wilful ignorance b) culture of awe of money which is incredibly naive and c) blatant ingratiation.
    Business journalism in general in Ireland is a joke.

    Finally, Matt Cooper, whom it was widely expected would be the target of O’Brien’s takeover of TodayFM, just renewed his contract for 3 years I think. So looks like editorial independence is safe there. Of course, he turns up regularly. Unlike Dunphy did at Newstalk. Oh well, I guess those early mornings didn’t agree with his social habits.

  5. Zara

    I was amazed reading this. Things must have changed a lot at the Indo group since Dunphy wrote for them because, by all accounts, the notion of editorial independence in Talbot St is a joke. Apparently when baby Jesus (Gavin O’Reilly) made his big speech – shown on TV – attacking O’Brien and waxing lyrical about journalistic freedom, the entire news room fell around the place laughing.

    One thing I agreed with him on is that the Irish Times is smug and redundant. But I like the fact that they didn’t edit that bit out. Can you imagine the Indo allowing that to appear? Ireland is crying out for a decent newspaper but I guess we don’t have the population to sustain it.

    Dunphy really set out to damage O’Brien, why I wonder? Has Tony O’Reilly managed to get to him somehow? Does he want to return to the Sindo? Whatever is behind it, it was a win for that pompous fart O’Reilly and a blow for O’Brien.

  6. Zara

    Agree with you about business journalism in Ireland Sarah, it’s all regurgitated PR. Mostly, the business pages are just a free advertising forum for businesses. Once in a while John McManus (Irish Times) is on the money but in general, it’s one big joke.

  7. Niall

    Dunphy doesn’t have a social life, so much as an anti-social life.

    As for the Indo, the little that isn’t cut and paste from other publications is of poor quality. The IT is of far better quality but yes, it is pretty smug.

    All business sections of in the Irish press are pretty awful. They don’t really amount to journalism at all. Part of the reason for this is that Irish life is ridiculously incestuous. And for some reason, the business journalists tend to write as though their intended audience is made up exclusively of Dublin based individuals that work in finance.

  8. Crocodile

    Business journos give businessmen an easy ride; holiday and motoring journalists are similarly uncritical. Yet health and education correspondents lose few opportunities to put the boot into doctors, nurses or teachers. The difference: doctors, nurses and teachers don’t buy advertising.

  9. Zara

    I thought O’Brien’s response to Gavin O’Reilly’s smarmy letter was far from “bitter and small-minded”, but honest and direct — a refusal to play along with the bullshit.

    The O’Reilly’s and their minions are bully boys and clearly don’t like it when someone stands up to them. Dunphy’s game is anyone’s guess.

    @Niall — That the IT is far superior to the Independent was never in question.

    One question mark that hangs over O’Brien in my mind is, why do Newstalk employees get paid so little – is the station in the red?

  10. Sarah Post author

    Oh I can answer that.

    He’s running it exactly like he did Esat. He hired young talented people who were desperate for a start and willing to work for small money to get experience and work in a company that was dynamic and challenging a serious incumbent. That’s their motivation. The small money is a pain but without job offers from RTE, they don’t have much choice. He’s excellent at motivating and rewarding them in other ways – lots of parties, family atmosphere etc. Newstalk is losing a packet, so he has to keep overheads way down, but he’s willing to fund it because he passionately believes there should be an alternative to RTE and because he believes in “buying market share”.
    Worked for Esat so I guess he’s hoping it’ll work for Newstalk!

    In the meantime, if people leave for RTE he’ll see that as an act of disloyalty and that he’s as well off without them. He wants people who are as committed to “the mission” as he is. Easy for him of course cos he’s rich – but look how Esat employees were rewarded in the long run. The trick for Newstalk people is either to get their experience and get out, or stick the pace and reap the long term rewards. Its hard going. I wouldn’t work for him again, ( i have neither the nerves nor the stamina) but I have huge admiration for those who do work with him. They do get rewarded in the long term, but they earn every last penny.

  11. Zara

    There’s not a lot of point in anyone leaving anywhere for RTE from what I’ve heard. They seem to have caught freelance-itis — using casuals for months on end, denying them employment rights by refusing to staff them up.

    Media organisations in general make me laugh. They’re so self-righteous vis-a-vis anyone else stepping out of line but see nothing wrong with flouting the spirit of employment legislation — while of course staying just within it. The Irish Times has it down to a fine art.

  12. Tomaltach

    In the meantime, if people leave for RTE he’ll see that as an act of disloyalty and that he’s as well off without them. He wants people who are as committed to “the mission” as he is. Easy for him of course cos he’s rich – but look how Esat employees were rewarded in the long run.

    Given the low pay attitude why the f**k wouldn’t they piss off to RTE or anyone else for that matter. Loyalty doesn’t strike me as a core value in the media business these days with its clashing egos and its backstabbing and the general way in which media has ‘sold out’ its values and (as mentioned in other comments) becoming a PR platform for the corporate world and other interests. Of course there was never an ideal era when news, investigation and reporting were pristine, honest, and had impeccable integrity. But certainly the PR invasion, the corporate interests, the moguls promoting their own empires, the crippling compulsion to please shareholders, all are compromising real news and balance now more than ever. ( Flat Earth News by Nick Davies describes this phenomenon in the British Media.)

    I don’t think it’s a fair comparison with Esat – the employees in the newstalk would do well not to expect the same rewards as at Esat. They are vastly different businesses at different times in their life cycle. Esat came on board and rode a massive wave during the exponential growth in the mobile comms market. There was huge money to be made and massive penetration was obtainable quickly in a rapidly expanding infact market. In media it’s far from the case. As you know, this is a period of uncertaintly, fragmentation, and rapid change for all media. And it’s a period of massive cost cutting in many respects – witness what has happened at RTE, the Irish Times, and of late the INM over recent years. The Indo had a huge clear out a year ago, basically they cut their editorial staff to a thread and hoped to outsource much of the work to cheaper locations and in parallel, make up the rest of the numbers with younger, cheaper, staff, often on contracts. The older guys with expectations set in an age when their jobs were both safe and well paid were shown the door.

  13. Zara

    IMO the Indo shot themselves in the foot with that clear out. A few weeks ago I had a coffee with a woman who unfurled that day’s copy of the Indo. I was surprised she was an Indo reader — she’s mid-30s, sharp, successful. Dunno what I imagined the typical Indo reader was, older maybe, not as well educated. Anyway, she started pointing out glaring mistakes and said she’s no longer going to buy a paper that treats her with contempt. And I thought, fair enough, what did they expect.

  14. Tomaltach

    I was talking to a subed who was let go in the clear out – and he said that they as a group had argued that the lower budget option would result in a lower quality product. But it was as if no one in mgt cared – costs were all that mattered. And we argree that probably the view was taken that media standards have been going south anyway with the dumbing down and all of the issues mentioned here in previous comments. So what’s a few typos given that the quality is already so compromised.

    The context of this decline is addressed in a recent New Yorker Article by Eric Alterman who writes that Philip Meyer, in his book “The Vanishing Newspaper” (2004), predicts that the final copy of the final newspaper will appear on somebody’s doorstep one day in 2043. It may be unkind to point out that all these parlous trends coincide with the opening, this spring, of the $450-million Newseum, in Washington, D.C., but, more and more, what Bill Keller calls “that lovable old-fashioned bundle of ink and cellulose” is starting to feel like an artifact ready for display under glass.

  15. Zara

    I read just one article in the Indo today and it contained a boob. It was by Breda Heffernan on Nuala O’Faolain, whom she said had been diagnosed with cancer in New York six days ago.

    “The Dublin-born author learned of her fate on a hospital trolley in New York six days ago.” Jeez, it was six WEEKS ago. Are they not double-checking anything in there? It would irritate me to be faced with that kind of sloppiness every day.

    I think the big saving INM made in outsourcing was on pensions. Tony O’Reilly doesn’t give a rat’s arse about a free press, he’s too busy fumbling in the greasy till.

  16. Tomaltach

    Agreed. And from what I’ve heard from the (ex)editorial staff in the Indo (and Herald) the editorial line was violated by owners interests on a far more frequent basis than Dunphy would allow. Certainly, it was not the benign enivronment he paints in terms of editorial freedom.

  17. MK

    Hi Sarah,

    Dunphy, O’Reilly and O’Brien – well, we all know quite a lot about all 3 characters. One thing is for sure, probably none of them really care about the Irish people or true media independence.

    One point that is relevant is that media controls (ie: stuctures to promote impartiality) in any country is necessary, and Ireland at the moment does not have much intervention controls in maintaining media ownership levels to manageable and well-balanced and ‘competitive’ market shares.

    RTE is culpable as well as its independence at times is very questionable and its is arguable if its relationship with governments actually allows it to be a trully independent voice. The state does not fund 2 or 3 independent radio and tv broadcasters equally, as it does to RTE, so RTE and the government are in each others pockets, so to speak.

    Likewise with print media (national and regional), and radio (national and regional), ownership seems to be very concentrated in the hands of the few who have vested interests in other spheres. Is legislation likely that will change all of this? Well, its badly needed, but whether a government is strong enough to carry it out or not remains to be seen. It wont be happening tomorrow.

    In the meantime, the blogosphere can help get some real truths out there and many people, although not the majority, are wise enough not to believe the ‘mantra’ and ‘propoganda’ that comes out of the aforementioned “oligopolies”.

    all the best,


  18. Zara

    Letter in today’s Irish Times more or less calling Dunphy a liar:


    Madam, – Eamon Dunphy joined Newstalk in September 2004 as the presenter of the Breakfast Show. Two years later he sought to amend the financial terms of his agreement and to move to another part of the station’s daytime schedule. When his demands could not be accommodated he left.

    Throughout his time with Newstalk he was provided with significant programming support and the Breakfast Show benefited from major marketing initiatives.

    The most serious aspect of Mr Dunphy’s article in last Saturday’s Weekend Reviewrelated to Denis O’Brien, chairman of Newstalk. Mr Dunphy wrote that he operated: “in the constant shadow of a man with strong opinions about the content of the programme” and that “his people let me know what he wasn’t happy with, say, Robert Fisk, Eamonn McCann, or the various contributors to our business slot”.

    This is most serious because it is wrong. At no time did Eamon Dunphy ever bring to my attention – or indeed to anyone else in the station – any concerns in this regard. It is an unacceptable slur on those who have worked, and those who continue to work, in Newstalk.

    A core objective at Newstalk is to be objective, balanced and fair and to avoid the slandering or libelling of individuals.

    The notion that Eamon Dunphy would find himself in the constant shadow of anyone stretches the imagination, even one as fertile as his. – Yours, etc,

    ELAINE GERAGHTY, Chief Executive, Newstalk, Mount Street Crescent, Dublin 2.

  19. Gerry

    so elaine geraghty knows what dunphy did or did not bring up with every member of staff past and present in the station. And she is surprised that he did not say to the business manager that the owner is a p***k?

    it’s all very well to be a lickspittle to the boss but at least be credible.

  20. Crocodile

    You need a subscription to read it in on their website, but a great article by Fintan O’Toole in the IT of Tue 20th, in which he points out the inaccuracy of the constant portrayal, especially by pro-business pundits in the media, of the Irish public service as ‘bloated’ and in constant need of ‘reform’. O’Toole gives chapter and verse to show that we are spending less on public services than almost every other OECD country, and that the bigger problem is a serious history of underinvestment. He makes a good case for an increase, rather than a reduction, in the numbers of public servants.

  21. enf

    So its quantity not quality?

    We have a history of underinvestment but we also have a history of employing muppets.

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