Saturday 24 March 2018

White warned over RTE 'bias' in new ministry

Alex White. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Alex White. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Fionnan Sheahan and John Drennan

NEW Communications Minister Alex White has been warned he will be watched closely to ensure he is not biased towards RTE, his former employer.

And the Labour Party hierarchy is keen for Mr White's predecessor and mentor, Pat Rabbitte, not to contest the next general election to allow the new minister to take over his patch.

Mr White is a former RTE producer and was heavily involved in the national broadcaster's staff trade unions, where he opposed the Section 31 broadcasting restrictions on Sinn Fein during the IRA's terrorism campaign.

Within the Labour hierarchy, there are some concerns about Mr White being an "RTE luvvie".

His appointment comes as the Government is preparing to replace the TV licence with a new broadcasting charge, which will have to be paid for by every household in the country, regardless of whether they have a television.

Fianna Fail communications spokesman Michael Moynihan said Mr White's RTE connections cannot be an obstacle to the broadcaster being accountable and providing value for money.

"I will be watching him very closely to ensure there is no bias. There are a lot of challenges there. RTE have a huge amount of funding coming from the licence fee and subsequent broadcasting charge," he said.

But Fine Gael TD John O'Mahony, the chairman of the Oireachtas communications committee, defended Mr White. "I can see why people might suggest that. But I have found him to be very capable and impartial. I wouldn't personally have any worries," he said.

Meanwhile, senior Labour figures are hoping Mr Rabbitte will stand down at the next general election to clear the way for Mr White to run in his constituency.

Mr White's Dublin South base is being butchered from a big five-seater to a small three-seater. But a large chunk of territory in Dublin South is gone into Mr Rabbitte's Dublin South-West, which is being expanded to a five-seater.

Labour views Mr White's chances of getting elected in Dublin South as limited and feel he has a better shot in Dublin South-West.

"Alex needs to find somewhere else to run," a senior party source said.

The speculation about Mr Rabbitte's future follows his dropping from Cabinet by Joan Burton. The veteran TD refused to comment to the Sunday Independent on his relationship with Ms Burton.

"Whilst I have no plans as of now, I certainly have no intention of taking up gardening," he said.

Sources close to Mr Rabbitte say his departure from the Dail chamber on Friday, when Ms Burton rose to speak on the Cabinet reshuffle was not a deliberate snub. Instead, he was going to do a pre-arranged RTE interview.

Sunday Independent

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