Newspaper to respond to O'Brien queries on coverage of O'Brien lawsuit
'The Irish Times' says it will respond to businessman Denis O'Brien's queries about its coverage of his legal action against Dublin PR firm Red Flag Consulting.
The newspaper has defended its reporting as "comprehensive, impartial and balanced".
The defence comes as Mr O'Brien, the biggest single shareholder in Independent News & Media (INM), publishers of this newspaper, called on 'The Irish Times' to answer his correspondence querying whether there was any connections between Red Flag and its reporter Peter Murtagh.
Last night, a spokespersson for 'The Irish Times' said a response to Mr O'Brien's letter would be issued "shortly".
A statement issued yesterday on behalf of Mr O'Brien said his legal advisers wrote to 'The Irish Times' Editor Paul O'Neill on March 21.
This letter "enquired if there was any connection directly or indirectly between 'The Irish Times' and Mr Peter Murtagh, reporter, and Red Flag and any of the other defendants in the current High Court proceedings.
"To date 'The Irish Times' has not responded to this letter."
Mr O'Brien's statement also pointed to a story printed in another Sunday newspaper, and noted that 'The Irish Times' did not respond to queries from this outlet either.
"In the interests of balance, objectivity and impartiality, it is incumbent on 'The Irish Times' to deal with this matter in a fully transparent manner immediately, most particularly in light of ongoing litigation, significantly Mr Murtagh's role in reporting matters relating to me and Red Flag," the statement for Mr O'Brien added.
When contacted, 'The Irish Times' issued a statement to the Irish Independent in which it described Mr Murtagh's coverage of the case as "comprehensive, impartial and balanced".
"As Mr O'Brien's solicitors have been informed, 'The Irish Times' will be responding to their correspondence which they described as 'strictly private and confidential'. That will happen shortly," the statement said.
Mr Murtagh has been covering the protracted legal battle between Mr O'Brien and Red Flag, headed by former newspaper executive Karl Brophy, for 'The Irish Times' since proceedings began in the High Court in October 2015. He won the NNI Investigative Journalism of the Year award in 2016 for his coverage of the case.
Earlier this month, former Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney - who is now at the centre of the case - complained to 'The Irish Times' about what he described as its "highly critical" coverage of him, and claimed there was a campaign to pressurise him to change his evidence.
He also claimed Mr Murtagh attempted to contact him while the case was being heard in the High Court, stating: "Hi Colm, wanna talk? This won't go away and you can still be on the side of the angels…. Best Peter".
When Mr Keaveney's complaint was mentioned in a recent hearing of the case in the High Court, it was told the editor of 'The Irish Times' denied this was an attempt to get Mr Keaveney to change his evidence, and the reference to being 'on the side of the angels' was a reference to being on the side of the media, and perhaps giving interviews.