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'truly a shock' RTÉ board member Larry Bass says he resigned to protect his business after 'concern' rasied

ShinAwil boss denies conflict of interest and says pre-production of Dancing With the Stars already underway when he was appointed to board

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Larry Bass of TV production company ShinAwil. Photo: Tony Gavin

Larry Bass of TV production company ShinAwil. Photo: Tony Gavin

Larry Bass of TV production company ShinAwil. Photo: Tony Gavin

Former RTÉ board member Larry Bass said it was “truly a shock” to be contacted by its chair Moya Doherty and told there was “serious concern” among some members about a contract being given to his company, ShinAwil.

The producer said in his September 17 resignation letter to Media Minister Catherine Martin that one of the matters in his first board meeting related to a show produced by his company, namely Dancing with the Stars.

He said he stepped out of the meeting to allow the board to privately discuss the final budget for the Sunday night flagship show. It is understood to be in the region of €3m.

But the future of one of RTÉ’s biggest shows now hangs in limbo with a spokesperson saying that “nothing has been confirmed yet” for the 2022 series, which had gone into pre-production prior to the controversy erupting.

Mr Bass said in his letter that after the meeting, Ms Doherty contacted him to say that discussion on the renewal of the contract to make the show had been “paused”.

There was a view that there was a “conflict of interest” in relation to his position as CEO of ShinAwil and as a result, a concern about awarding “the most important contract for us for 2021/2022”.

In his letter released to the Irish Independent under an FOI request, discussions about the show began last April and were signed off by RTÉ’s editorial board and CFO during the summer. Mr Bass was appointed to the board in July.

“Therefore, it (the discussions) predates my appointment to the board,” he said.

Pre-production had already started on the series and, he said, he had made “very serious financial commitments” in order to produce the series.

He had to source a studio to host the show in order to get a confirmation of the contract. He was subsequently told his company was being commissioned to make a new series of DWTS.

Mr Bass said the issue of any possible conflict of interest was addressed prior to his appointment during the interview process with members of the Oireachtas.

He previously sat on the boards of both the BAI and Screen Ireland which also could have been perceived as conflict of interest. Both boards have robust protocols in place, whereby any board member must recuse themselves from a certain agenda item by leaving the room, he added.

He said RTÉ has similar protocols in place to negate any similar issues from arising. Oireachtas members had already endorsed his candidacy, having been satisfied that his appointment would “not compromise the integrity of the board”.

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“I will re-iterate again that it was confirmed to ShinAwil, prior to my appointment to the board, that ShinAwil was in a pre-production process to produce DWTS,” he said.

He said that other significant producers of content for RTÉ have been board members and it was not considered to be a conflict that they sat on the board while their companies had shows commissioned.

He said that he wanted to bring his “significant experience” to the RTÉ board, having worked in the Irish and international media sector for 40 years.

“I believe in RTÉ. I wanted to contribute to the functioning of RTÉ to help build a robust and future-facing pillar in Irish society,” he said.

But he said he “could not have it on my conscience” that his presence had a negative impact on any decision in board management. He said he found himself in a position where he felt he could not continue as a board member.

“Not only must I protect my business but I must consider the livelihoods of hundreds of staff who depend on productions from RTÉ,” he said.

He said he never sought to take the position for any gain for his company but having gone through the whole interview process, he did not expect this matter to arise.

He felt he was left with no choice but to withdraw from the position that MS Martin had offered him and he was tendering his resignation.

In an email accompanying it, he said it was “one of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write” as he had been so deeply honoured to be appointed to the national board.

Asked about the current situation in relation to the status of DWTS, a spokesperson for RTÉ said it has not confirmed anything yet for the show. “Therefore, we have no comment to make at this time,” she said.

A spokesperson for Ms Doherty has been contacted for comment in addition to Mr Bass.

A spokesperson for the RTÉ Board said it “cannot comment on commercially sensitive board discussions. The board has stringent structures in place regarding matters of corporate governance and conflict of interest”.

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