THE MEDIA chill – or unbridled paranoia – that grips RTÉ management at the very suggestion of broadcasting critical coverage of Denis O’Brien was referred to in the recent Sunday Business Post libel case. But if RTÉ management is nervous about any of its investigative journalists provoking Denis, they will have been pleased at Marian Finucane’s sterling defence of Denis, “his good name” and his “integrity” on her show last Sunday.
Under cross-examination by O’Brien’s brief, Paul O’Higgins, last week Tom Lyons told the High Court of his RTÉ interview about the contested story in 2015. Lyons recounted how the interviewer told him that the station’s lawyers’ instructions were “not to go near him [O’Brien]”. But Marian Finucane was certainly adjacent to O’Brien last weekend when responding to panelist, law lecturer Larry Donnelly’s comment that the libel case result was a victory for objective and critical journalism.
“Everybody is entitled to their good name and they really are and people feel it, very deeply, if somebody has a go at their good name,” responded Marian to the non-plussed legal academic.
When Fergus Finlay remarked how O’Brien “can’t let anything go”, Finucane interjected to say, that poor Denis was “constantly being insulted”. And when Fungus pointed to O’Brien’s 22 libel actions against various media, Finucane retorted, “Well, he’s just not going to allow people to undermine his integrity.”
When it was suggested that a victory for O’Brien could have resulted in the Post going bust and how this could lead to media ownership concentration, Finucane said, “Well, I mean that’s not what was on his mind. What was on his mind was his good name and he’s entitled to it.”
Marian concluded this part of the discussion on Denis by reminding listeners that the billionaire was “noted for his generosity” and cited his charitable efforts in Haiti as an example.
Finucane’s robust defence of O’Brien’s right to defend his good name and integrity against the slings and arrows of outrageous media caused a stir in Montrose. In a most unusual development, the head of current affairs, David Nally, issued an email to editors making some serious criticisms of the programme. However, it is not thought that RTÉ’s legal department shares these self-indulgent, liberal views on broadcasting stories about rich and powerful individuals with a bent for litigation.
There are many journalists that have been told by RTÉ to zip it about O’Brien when he is at the centre of public-interest news stories. Last year, the station refused to allow commentary on a breaking story about ODCE revelations concerning ex-INM chairman and Denis O’Brien’s board nominee, Leslie Buckley (see The Phoenix, 10/8/18).
Of the 22 legal actions O’Brien has taken out against the media, just two are against RTÉ which, in the scheme of things, is hardly disproportionate (Goldhawk has one writ from Denis).