TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has ruled out the possibility of an inquiry into media ownership in Ireland.
Catherine Murphy had raised the issue in the Dáil after the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approved the acquisition of the Celtic Media group by Independent News and Media (INM). The move means that INM will now control five national newspapers and 28 regional papers around Ireland.
Replying to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, Kenny said: “I do not see any reason for the setting up of a commission of inquiry into the matter.”
Speaking in the Dáil, Murphy said the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approved the acquisition of the Celtic Media group by Independent News and Media (INM).
She said the ball was now in the government’s court, stating that it is now “up to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and presumably the Cabinet to accept or reject this acquisition”.
Media ownership in Ireland is a “high risk”
Citing a recent a report authored by Dr. Roddy Flynn of Dublin City University she said he identified the concentration of media ownership in Ireland as a “high risk”.
“That was echoed earlier this year in a European Commission report, which found that the position in Ireland was the subject of the highest level of concern and identified a lack of legal barriers as an issue.”
Murphy also cited a report, commissioned by Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan for an EU grouping, which took aim at both RTÉ and billionaire media mogul Denis O’Brien.
It is difficult to see how an agency involved in consumer protection could approve the proposed acquisition, particularly in a sector that has the potential to undermine our democracy. INM publishes the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Sunday World and the Belfast Telegraph. It has a 50% stake in the Irish Daily Star and controls 13 paid-for regional weekly newspapers.
If INM’s acquisition of the Celtic Media group goes ahead, it will control 28 regional titles across the country in addition to the national titles I have mentioned. The radio sector is also relevant in this context. Communicorp, which is owned by the same majority shareholder as INM, controls Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM, Spin 103 and Spin South West, or approximately 20% of the entire radio market. Although I appreciate that print and broadcast media are different, it is essential for the cross-ownership of INM and Communicorp to be considered in tandem.
‘Why make the situation worse?’
Addressing the Taoiseach she asked:
“If there is already a problem with the over-concentration of media ownership, why would the government make that situation worse? That is the obvious question.”
“While media concentration is an issue in its own right, the ownership of such a large proportion of our print broadcasting and digital media by someone who has consistently used the courts to create a chilling effect on journalists and other media outlets has to be questioned in the most serious terms. The person to whom I refer, Denis O’Brien, was the subject of adverse findings in the Moriarty tribunal, as the Taoiseach is aware.”
She said the media acquisition is clearly against the public interest. She asked the Taoiseach would he oppose the acquisition? He was also asked if would support the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) call to initiate a public commission on the future of the media to examine ownership, editorial control, employment standards including pension rights and measures to protect editorial independence?
Media ownership report
In his reply, the Taoiseach said Minister Naughten is examining the report (which he was previously called out for not reading).
Kenny said the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 gives the minister for communications the power to block any media merger that is deemed likely to be contrary to the public interest in maintaining the plurality of media in the State.
However he said the Act did not give the minister the power to act retrospectively or to assess a media business in the absence of a proposed merger, as he said to do so would be to interfere with the property rights enshrined in Article 43 of the Constitution.
He said to do this “which would raise a myriad of legal complexities”.
Despite Murphy and her party colleague asking the Taoiseach on a number of occasions if he agreed with the merger, Kenny did not did not answer the question.
Read: Communications Minister admits he hasn’t read report which criticises media ownership in Ireland>