Opinion

Monday 20 May 2019

Lies won't compromise the Sunday Independent

Anne Harris, Editor, Sunday Independent
Anne Harris, Editor, Sunday Independent

Anne Harris

If we but knew how little other people think of us,” Samuel Johnson warned.

The advice never to exaggerate your own importance in other people’s lives applies a hundredfold to an editor’s relationship with the reader.

The editor is the invisible hand that guides the tiller. All that matters to the reader is that the paper to which they give their loyalty (and their money) should inform, provoke, entertain and above all tell truth to power.

It must also sell.

Last week’s Phoenix magazine reported as fact that I was about to retire.

That after a “year-long truce” with Denis O’Brien, I had negotiated a generous settlement package which was “agreeable to her” and would be leaving in a couple of months.

None of which I expect to matter to our readers – even if it matters to those who work with me and caused a flutter in res publica, that place where media and politics meet and where the specificity of the report caused some chatter.

The problem is the whole story is a lie. But if that were all, it could have been ignored, as is customary. I have no plans to retire before my contract expires. I have neither sought, negotiated, nor “extracted” a pay-off, generous or not.

And this “truce”, year-long or otherwise, is entirely a fantasy of the Phoenix. It is only fair to point out that nobody has ever asked me to go.

The problem is there is more to it, something that would undoubtedly be a concern for readers of the Sunday Independent.

The article asserts that the pay-off, having been extracted: “Presumably there will be no more provocative references to the ‘The Berlusconi complex’ or any other negative

Comments about DOB [Denis O’Brien] in the time left to her at the helm of the Sindo.”

In short, the editor of the Sunday Independent has been bought and the newspaper compromised.

The Phoenix magazine is no more than the sum of the agendas of those who contribute — usually those with an axe to grind, sometimes with an axe to wield.

‘Who benefits?’ is the first question to ask. My first thoughts on reading were the words of critic Mary McCarthy on playwright/activist  Lillian Hellman.“Every single word she writes is a lie, including ‘the’ and ‘and’.”

Since, as I pointed out earlier, none of this is true, I am clearly not the only one de famed. Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in INM. In theory, with 29pc of the shares, he does not control it. The question is whether he understands newspapers. In order to confront the truths of our troubled society, we must have a  free

press.

If the restrictive charter for journalists proposed last year, along with some other structural changes are anything to go by, it might be instructive for him to listen to journalists, troublesome and all as they are.

The truth is that the biggest threat to democracy is not a businessman who clearly enjoys a concentration of media ownership, but a Government which has no political will to tackle what is regarded in other countries as a problem.

So much so that European commissioners are planning modifications to EU competition law that will address the threat to democracy posed by concentration of media ownership.

Our Government, despite promises, ignores the fact that Ireland has one of the most concentrated media structures in Europe, which leaves the three big players, RTE, the newspapers and commercial radio, vulnerable to direct or indirect government and commercial pressure — and that serves nobody’s interests.

And remember, beware what you read in the Phoenix.

Sunday Independent

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