Panel advises against INM buying regional titles

Regional titles’ market share details must be provided before further deals, panel says

 INM walked away from its offer to buy Celtic after the  BAI approved the deal with tough conditions. Photograph:  Fran Veale

INM walked away from its offer to buy Celtic after the BAI approved the deal with tough conditions. Photograph: Fran Veale

 

Independent News & Media (INM) should be barred from buying more local newspapers until there is definitive information on regional titles’ market share, say advisers who scrutinised the group’s Celtic Media bid.

INM walked away from its offer to buy Celtic, publisher of the Anglo Celt and Meath Chronicle, after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) approved the deal with tough conditions.

An advisory panel chaired by academic, Prof John Horgan, says that regardless of the outcome, “no further acquisition of regional titles by INM should be considered in the absence of definitive up-to-date information about the market shares of all titles in the sector”.

The panel’s report, just published by the Government, says that there are no current independent circulation figures available for each regional newspaper in the State, which would be needed to estimate the combined market share of INM’s and Celtic Media’s titles.

Proposed takeover

The advisers aided the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in its investigation of INM’s proposed takeover of its rival. They reported to the authority before it finished its investigation and sent its findings to the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughton.

Irish competition law requires the Minister to approve media mergers in order to prevent ownership of newspapers and broadcasters falling into too few hands. He can refer any such deal to the BAI for investigation.

INM, whose biggest shareholder is Denis O’Brien, decided not to go ahead with the deal as it feared that the conditions imposed by the authority would threaten the viability of Celtic Media.

This week the group warned that titles would close if newspapers were not allowed to consolidate. INM argued that current ownership rules played into the hands of foreign media interests that may have big operations in other countries but a limited Irish presence.

“The Irish market, like others, is also faced with competition form digital news sources such as Google and Facebook, who operate with freedom outside of regulatory constraints,” the group said.