Breakdown in communications

WEXFORD COUNTY COUNCIL HEADQUARTERS at Carricklawn, Wexford.

By Dan Walsh at Wexford County Council Meeting

Proposed conditions attached to an advertising deal with editorial control and conditions between Wexford County Council’s Head of Communications, David Minogue, and the Managing Director of South East Radio, Eamonn Buttle, publicly leaked and published in a national newspaper at the weekend, fitted the agenda at yesterday’s monthly meeting of Wexford County Council.

Mr Minogue gave a detailed account of the matter. It emerged that Mr Minogue had asked that, going forward, South East Radio would not broadcast “personal views or opinions of presenters”; that they retain all raw recorded material for a period of two years in case of a dispute with the local authority and that once Wexford County Council avails of a right to reply on an issue, that this should be the end of the matter and it should not be raised again.

“I’m the Head of Communications and I didn’t ask or discuss the matter with Tom (Enright) at all. I did this myself and I won’t have Tom dragged into this, “said Mr Minogue.

Explaining his actions, Mr Minogue stated that he had reached out to South East Radio following the SIPO investigation to “move matters on and rebuild what I considered to be a necessary working relationship”.

Mr Minogue stated that he had a constructive meeting with Mr Buttle at South East Radio on January 24th and they discussed how similar issues to those raised in the SIPO report could best be avoided in future. “When I left the meeting that day, I felt we made quite good progress,” he said.

“In that meeting I indicated to Mr Buttle that I fully expected the council to continue advertising with the radio station and, for the record, we never stopped. We’ve no plans to stop. I estimated the value of that to be around €40,000 to €50,000 per year, which is roughly what we’re spending now. At the end of the meeting, we agreed I would go forward to South East Radio’s advertising department and would agree a service level agreement, basically setting out the criteria for how we might deal with each other going forward.”

Mr Minogue said that he indicated to Mr Buttle that Wexford County Council intended to proceed with advertising as planned in an email on March 23th, adding “I further stated in my email that there were a few criteria that the council would like to see in place as part of any annual commercial dealing with the radio going forward. Given that these things were not necessarily advertising related,

“Mr Buttle replied on March 25th and expressed his thanks that South East Radio could budget for €40,000 to €50,000 in advertising and in his email, he asked if I could elaborate by what I meant in relation to criteria I’d like put in place. I replied on the same day and it appears that the content of this particular email is the one which has led to Saturday’s coverage in the national press.”

On the first point, Mr Minogue had asked that the station retain raw interview recordings, even those not broadcast, for a period of two years, stating “such material can then be made available for review should a dispute between the radio and Wexford County Council arise.”

Secondly, his email to Mr Buttle stated: “Wexford County Council does not consider it appropriate that a South East Radio broadcaster offers personal views or opinions on South East Radio. I ask for assurances that South East Radio will take steps necessary to ensure that such personal views or opinions are not broadcast in future.”

Mr Minogue and Mr Buttle exchanged emails and Mr Minogue expressed his disappointment that the contents of the emails had been leaked to the press.

“Suffice to say that I’m surprised and disappointed that someone has seen fit to bring our correspondence to the attention of national media, that’s an understatement to be frank,” he said, and he added; “I completely fail to understand his purpose in doing so. The sole motivation for engaging with Mr Buttle since January last and my email was to seek to put the recent differences behind us and to look to renew the excellent working relationship that has always existed between the Council and South East Radio.

“I believe the tone and input of my email was balanced and I think it was reasonable and the criteria set out were clearly to be considered by South East Radio. They were not conditions imposed by the Council and they shouldn’t have been represented as such. I consider Mr Buttle’s reply to be a blatant, possibly mischievous misrepresentation of my email to him. The tone and content of his email was completely at variance with our discussions at his office.

Mr Minogue concluded that Mr Buttle has significantly misinterpreted “my email and its contents.” “With that in mind, I intend to make contact with Mr Buttle this week to address that misinterpretation and clarify the nature of my request for his consideration and seek to, once again, establish a basis for a renewed professional working relationship between the Council and South East Radio; a relationship I know that both organisations wish to see in place once again. This is obviously an ongoing process and I remain confident that an amicable and mutually acceptable outcome can be achieved and I’m very happy to keep the members informed of my progress on this issue.” The matter was then opened to members. Cllr Jackser Owens said South East Radio is one of the best radio stations in Ireland and felt it should not be sanctioned.

Cllr Willie Kavanagh described the matter as “making a mountain out of a molehill” and it was “a misunderstanding” between the County Secretary and South East Radio.

Cllr Tom Forde was of the opinion that the matter “reflected badly on the Council” but he suggested “plough ahead” and he always got fair coverage on South East Radio.

Cllr George Lawlor said the Council had a very good relationship with South East Radio, and that relationship was not under question, but the importance of community service broadcasting and to repair what has gone on. He called on both parties to resolve the matter and move forward.

Cllr Jim Codd described the situation as “disappointing” and outlined the freedom of the press is paramount and testament to democracy. “Rebuild this relationship,” urged Cllr Codd.

Cllr Lisa McDonald got good support from her fellow members when she advised that “both bodies should have had a solicitor and shouldn’t have to listen to – all do your best – that is just silly.” She said the law is there regards the storage of information and told the meeting “sort it out.”

Cllr Davy Hynes recalled getting a phone call from a national newspaper regards the matter and he was not impressed!

Cllr Michael Sheehan said he was in total agreement with what was being said in the chamber but felt that some may have misrepresented the language. Cllr Sheehan said the parties were in contract negotiations, which were not completed, and he asked the pertinent question – who leaked the emails to a national newspaper?

Cllr Oliver Walsh felt Mr Minogue gave a very good explanation – it was an unfortunate episode – but he suggested they fix it as “both need each other.”

Cllr John Fleming called for a resolution and ‘move on’. Cllr Jim Moore also said – ‘move on’, but, warned about correspondence via e-mail. “The Council needs to consolidate its relationship with the media,” he concluded.

Cllr John Hegarty expressed the view that Wexford County Council and South East Radio co-exist and urged both to work on a service level agreement.

Cllr Ger Carthy called for the important relationship between South East Radio and Wexford County Council be maintained.

Cllr Pip Breen said “we should draw a line under this, we need each other I propose the County Secretary meet with Eamonn Buttle and there be no more about it.” Cllr Anthony Connick seconded.

Cathaoirleach Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy accepted the proposal and there were no dissenting voices.

The Communications Officer expressed ‘disappointment’ and apologised that the issue had ended up in the national newspaper headlines and stated he is open to dialogue and bringing the process forward and he would speak to Mr Buttle and South East Radio and “put the matter to bed”. “I bear no ill will to anybody,” concluded Mr Minogue.

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