Penalty points, GSOC, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, whistleblowing, taped conversations. These topics are all the rage. Barry Creed wonders why no one is talking about Gemma O’Doherty?
Most will know that the former Garda Commissioner described the actions of the whistleblowers as “disgusting”. We know that the whistleblowers came forward with information that hundreds of people had penalty points removed from their licences. But what if the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had points removed from his own licence? The public should be entitled to know.
In early 2013, Gemma O’Doherty was the senior features writer with the Irish Independent, where she had worked for 16 years. She found herself in hot water with senior Independent News and Media (INM) management executives in April 2013 in relation to a story she was pursuing about the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan getting penalty points removed from his licence.
Within months she became the only journalist in 28 redundancies at INM. The media in Ireland ignored her departure, bar one or two publications such as The Phoenix and Broadsheet.ie.
Paddy Prendeville, Editor of The Phoenix magazine said that there is now a worrying trend of hesitating to criticise INM.
“You just don’t have a go at Denis O’Brien’s newspapers”, he said. “A lot of journalists would worry about job security, so maybe it’s not a good idea to stick out, in case you’re looking for a job in the future”, he added.
Prendeville said that this might also be another reason that journalists in other titles failed to pick up on the story.
“Dog doesn’t eat dog”, he said.
The circumstances around her departure is where the controversy lies. In April 2013, Doherty door-stepped the home of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to ask had he penalty points wiped from his driving licence. She had not cleared this move with her superiors and we believe two management executives at INM took umbrage.
Stephen Rae, editor-in-chief of Independent titles described O’Doherty as a “rogue reporter” for daring to approach Callinan without permission. Rae used to be the editor of the Garda Review magazine and along with reporter Paul Williams (subsequently of the Independent stable) were also believed to have had penalty points quashed from their record. O’Doherty’s article went to print in the Independent in a version The Phoenix described as “sanitised”.
In September and October Roy Greenslade of The Guardian penned two articles on O’Doherty’s departure summarising the incidents leading up to her departure.
We asked why he thinks the Irish media ignored the Gemma O’Doherty saga?
“It was a major scandal and should have been investigated by every paper. So I suspect that too many journalists including, most obviously, editors were either compromised by having been the recipients of Garda favours or feared that, by reporting it, they would lose favour. It’s also a problem of a small, narrowly owned, press in a small country, though I’m also surprised the UK owned papers didn’t get into it in a big way. Gemma O’Doherty is in the long tradition of a single-minded journalist pursuing a story in spite of official disapproval. She deserves an award and I sincerely hope her legal actions succeed”, he said.
Robert Mulhern of London’s The Irish Post also covered the Rae penalty points story and questioned the circumstances around O’Doherty’s exit from the Independent.
The matter of Gemma O’Doherty losing her job, and Stephen Rae having had points rescinded were raised by Joe Higgins in the Dail on October 2nd 2013, where Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter stated he wasn’t privy to the background and he wasn’t going to comment.
You could argue that whoever gets hired or fired in a newspaper is none of Shatter’s business, but penalty points getting cleared off a drivers licence should be.
“It’s a bad reflection on the Irish media”, Robert Mulhern of the UK based Irish Post told me. “The O’Doherty story was just one entry point into the Garda related scandals that are now playing out. The mainstream is involved now. But where were they in September? Was the story too easy to ignore then? Now it’s impossible to ignore”, he added.
Robert pointed out that there was no journalistic reason not to cover the original O’Doherty story.
“On its own, the story is a matter of public interest”, Mulhern said.
“Why was a leading journalist let go? What happened? Is there a connection between the story she was pursuing and her redundancy? These are all standard questions that weren’t asked by the mainstream. They were asked by The Irish Post, The Guardian, The Phoenix and Broadsheet, but it shouldn’t be left to an Irish title abroad and some small titles at home to ask these questions”, Robert pointed out.
Maybe one could look at media ownership in Ireland and specifically look at INM. How many newspapers do they own? Denis O’Brien, who is the largest shareholder in INM, also owns the Communicorp Group Ltd which owns Today FM and Newstalk amongst others.
Maybe there is no story here, no conspiracy and Gemma O’Doherty was just unfortunate to lose her job. Now that Martin Callinan is gone, in light of the whistleblowing row, O’Doherty might yet be vindicated for trying to do her job.
The details behind her dismissal could yet be forced onto the front pages and into the news bulletins but it shouldn’t take a court case or an inquiry for this to happen. The media has a responsibility to ask questions that the public can not.