INVESTIGATIVE journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth is being dropped from his programme on Today FM and replaced by public relations specialist Anton Savage, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
"We're replacing Sam Smyth with Anton Savage. We're delighted to announce that Anton will be moving to a full-time position on Sunday shortly. We've wanted to give him a full-time position for about a year now. It will be a lifestyle and current affairs show," Today FM chief executive Willie O'Reilly said last night when pressed to respond to intense speculation that Mr Smyth was about to be forced from his position at the station.
Contacted for his response to the news that his Sunday Supplement programme is coming to an end and that he is to be replaced, Mr Smyth declined to make any comment.
Sources close to the veteran journalist said, however, that he has already been in consultation with his lawyers and will resist any attempt to remove him from his position at the station, which is owned by billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien.
Contacted for his reaction last night, National Union of Journalists secretary Seamus Dooley said he would be speaking to Mr Smyth in the coming days and asking him if he required the union's assistance.
Commenting on Mr Smyth's removal from Today FM, Mr Dooley said: "This decision to terminate Mr Smyth's contract with Today FM raises 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. The decision to terminate Sam Smyth's contract will inevitably be viewed against the backdrop of Mr O'Brien's legal action and the actions of those close to him in seeking to influence his work as a journalist covering the Moriarty Tribunal. Mr O'Brien is a well-known supporter of a number of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders. His commitment to human rights abroad is not always matched by a similar commitment to freedom of expression or trade union rights in Ireland."
The news of Mr Smyth's departure from Today FM comes just months after Leslie Buckley, a close business associate of Denis O'Brien, was accused by Independent News & Media (INM) chief executive Gavin O'Reilly of attempting to interfere in the Irish Independent's coverage of the Moriarty Tribunal after he raised his concerns in a phone call to him on the nature of Sam Smyth's reporting of it.
Central to the tribunal's inquiries were its investigations into business dealings between Denis O'Brien and former government minister Michael Lowry. Mr O'Brien is currently suing INM and Mr Smyth in relation to a May 2010 article about the tribunal.
While Mr Buckley admitted to making the phone call to Mr O'Reilly in which he raised his concerns about Mr Smyth's reporting, he rejected the accusation that he had tried to interfere as "false and misleading".
A spokesman for INM meanwhile said it stood by its statement that Mr Buckley had interfered.
"We maintain that Leslie Buckley, as a director of the board, attempted to have Sam Smyth removed from covering the Moriarty Tribunal for the Irish Independent. If Mr Buckley has any issues with what Gavin O'Reilly has said on this matter, he can of course pursue legal remedy."