O’Brien’s record should disbar him from having a disproportionate hold on media
We must be constantly reminded of the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal
Denis O’Brien arriving for the Moriarty Tribunal at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The recent assertion of media power by a person found to have paid large sums of money to a government minister who improperly assisted him to acquire the hugely lucrative second mobile phone licence has been largely ignored. It is as though we do not want to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth, while members of the present government can hardly wait to pay homage to this same person.
The person I am referring to is of course Denis O’Brien and it was his financial clout, founded on the grant to his company of that mobile phone licence, which, at least indirectly, persuaded Pat Kenny to leave RTÉ and join Newstalk.
I have argued in these columns and in correspondence with Denis O’Brien (to whom, incidentally, I am indebted for bringing me into broadcasting) that no one person should be allowed to control a media group the size of Independent News and Media (INM) in a society as small as Ireland – Denis O’Brien insists he does not control INM – and certainly not, when, in this instance, that person also controls an appreciable segment of the radio market.
There is also the fact that Denis O’Brien’s record as a media owner is one which alone should disbar him from exercising such power. He has himself written that media proprietors should operate “at an appropriate distance from editorial matters” and of “the responsibility that rests with media owners not to interfere with editorial content”.
His repeated efforts to have Sam Smyth stopped from reporting and commenting on the Moriarty tribunal during which time he, Denis O’Brien, was the central character, is one instance of that record.
More recently, there is apprehension that the restructuring of INM’s editorial operations in Ireland may enable Denis O’Brien to acquire firm editorial control. Does this editorial restructuring fit with proprietors operating “at an appropriate distance from editorial matters”?
But the chief reason why this person must be stopped from exerting such media muscle relates to the findings of a tribunal, the Moriarty tribunal, established by the Oireachtas and supervised by the courts under the Constitution.
Reading back over the summary chapter (64 pages) of the Moriarty report on payments made by Denis O’Brien to Michael Lowry (chapter 16), it is not just the findings of the tribunal regarding the scale of the payments by Denis O’Brien to Michael Lowry while Lowry was the minister in charge of the department which awarded the hugely lucrative second mobile phone licence (the basis of Denis O’Brien’s massive wealth) which are shocking.
It is the findings concerning the scale of the elaborate deception and lying in which Denis O’Brien and his associates engaged – the tribunal did not actually state that Denis O’Brien lied, but it rejected almost every piece of evidence he gave to the tribunal under oath, which surely is the same thing.