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Thursday 27 October 2016

Gene Kerrigan: Radio is a Savage world -- now Anton must prove he's tuned in

Today FM's new star is no stranger to politics, but he must be more than a cheerleader, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 06/11/2011 | 05:00

Anton Savage
Anton Savage

It's a small world. And to an increasing extent it's a Savage world. Take Anton Savage, a genial young man who's about to replace Sam Smyth on Today FM's Sunday Supplement..

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It's getting hard to avoid Anton and his connections, had one a mind to try.

Some senators became agitated about Smyth's dismissal, suspicious of a link between that decision and the fact that Smyth is being sued for alleged libel by the station's owner, billionaire Denis O'Brien. Should a single piece of evidence ever emerge that a shareholder in a major radio station even attempted to speak to an executive on a matter involving his personal litigation against a member of staff, that would have severe regulatory consequences for the shareholder's media holdings.

Therefore, we must take seriously the statement by Today FM's chief executive Willie O'Reilly. O'Reilly said he made the decision to replace Sam with Anton because of declining listenership, that O'Brien had nothing to do with it.

"I will be making more changes in the next seven months," O'Reilly said. Five days later he resigned from Today FM, to go to RTE. One assumes that when he categorically stated he would be making changes at Today FM over the next seven months, he had no notion that he was about to leave the station. Obviously, things move fast in the world of radio.

Eamon Dunphy joined the kerfuffle, resigning from another O'Brien-owned station, Newstalk, denouncing alleged intimidation and blackguardism. Dunphy was in turn attacked by some who said he left because Newstalk sought to halve his wages. Newstalk's George Hook argued, with his usual forensic reasoning, that Dunphy was "full of crap".

As O'Reilly arrives at RTE, he will be under the shelter of the RTE Authority, the chairman of which is Tom Savage, Anton's daddy. Tom is co-founder of the Communications Clinic, a PR firm. As is Anton's mammy, Terry Prone. Terry's CV says she "has advised nearly every Taoiseach since Jack Lynch. Her services have been retained by all of the major parties in the Dail", and she "provided consultancy to hundreds of the top companies in the country".

Anton (also employed by the Communications Clinic) claims to have been "retained by a number of Ireland's leading politicians, media figures and business people", for PR advice.

There's evidence of a trend towards the dreaded "positivity" at Newstalk, the need to put an unwarranted spin on business and political matters -- the kind of fantasy we enjoyed during the bubble years. There are allegations that commentators insufficiently positive about politics and the economy are sidelined. Matt Cooper's Today FM presence, where events are fairly and sanely assessed, speaks against this trend.

Anton, to put it mildly, is no Matt Cooper.

The Irish Times yesterday quoted an internal Newstalk memo which sought "viewpoints which offer different lines than normal journalism follows". This effort to encourage abnormal journalism has novelty value.

The ascent of Anton, who has been coy about his connections to Enda Kenny, will place a huge burden on the lad to prove he's not just a cheerleader. We don't know which politicians or business people paid Anton (or his mammy) for advice. We won't know, should Anton interview them.

Sunday Independent

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