An effort by Wexford County Council to ensure that presenters from a local radio station would not express personal opinions on air in exchange for council publicity has been described as ‘very difficult to fathom ” by the Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

On Saturday, The Irish Times reported that in a March 25 email, Wexford County Clerk David Minogue asked that no personal opinions be expressed by South East Radio broadcasters as part of a agreement proposed on an expenditure of €40,000 to €50,000. year by the advertising board.

He also asked the station to keep raw, unedited recordings for a period of two years in case a dispute arose between the board and the station.

The controversy came weeks after the Public Service Standards Commission (Sipo) published a report in which it criticized Wexford County Council chief executive Tom Enright for putting ‘undue’ pressure on South East Radio during a 2019 dispute over council coverage near the station.

The criticism centered on the threat that the council’s advertisement would be pulled from the station.

Asked about the weekend’s report, the Taoiseach said ‘if that’s the case it would be very difficult to understand’.

“You don’t need a Sipo report to know that in any executive authority you’re not trying to intimidate the media or shape the media’s output or commentary, on the basis that you’ll take them out of the advertising, if that’s what transpired.

“We are in a free society with free media and the media has the right to secure advertising in a free market like everyone else. There can be no connection between advertising sponsorship and editorial control. And so I would be very concerned about that.

In a response to Mr Minogue on April 1, South East Radio managing director Eamonn Buttle said its presenters “will not be censored in the way you are looking for for the benefit of [Wexford Council Council].”

“In a democratic society, such behavior cannot and should not be tolerated. South East Radio will certainly not tolerate it.

At a council meeting on Monday, Mr Minogue read the content of his email to Mr Buttle and described Mr Buttle’s email response as “quite remarkable”.

Mr Minogue told the Irish Times that since the weekend he had lodged a complaint with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland against South East Radio, due to Mr Buttle’s response to his email and further questions, but now intended to withdraw his complaint.

“I do not consider that such a complaint would be useful in the context of relationship building [with South East Radio] and that’s why I’m withdrawing it. Not for another.

Council chair Barbara Anne Murphy of Fianna Fáil said she believed in freedom of the press and did not believe council advertising should be tied to the station’s editorial content.

“I really think we need to come back and rebuild our relationship with South East Radio and that’s what we need to do,” she said in an interview on Tuesday with South East Radio’s Morning Mix show.