Calls for BAI to revisit 2012 ruling that O’Brien doesn’t control INM

BAI examined extent of O’Brien’s influence over INM in 2012

Denis O’Brien,  The Irish TimesPhotograph; Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Denis O’Brien, The Irish TimesPhotograph; Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called upon the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to review its 2012 decision that Denis O’Brien does not have a controlling interest in Independent News and Media (INM).

Séamus Dooley, the secretary of the Irish branch of the NUJ, said recent revelations regarding the alleged extent of Mr O’Brien’s influence over operational matters at INM call may into question BAI’s decision.

“He clearly gained influence through Leslie Buckley (who post the 2012 decision was appointed chairman of INM) on the pensions issue and other operational issues,” said Mr Dooley.

“Using the phrase now associated with Mr Buckley and INM - do you not get it lads - the BAI’s chief executive Michael O’Keefe should go back and have a look at this decision over his level of control.”

In 2012, the BAI examined the extent of Mr O’Brien’s influence over INM in the context of the exit at the time of INM’s then-chief executive, Gavin O’Reilly, following a battle for control with the near 30 per cent-shareholder.

The BAI, which does not regulate newspapers, is nevertheless the only State regulatory body with a remit to examine cross-media ownership and media plurality.

It considers the level of overall cross-media control of individuals and companies in the context of its core remit, overseeing the licensing of the broadcast sector. Mr O’Brien’s Communicorp is by far the biggest private radio company in the State.

In 2012, BAI declined to launch a full investigation into whether Mr O’Brien had excessive control over Irish media, after a public clamour for it to examine the issue following Mr O’Brien’s vanquishing of the influence of the O’Reillys at INM board level.

At the time, BAI said Mr O’Brien had substantial influence over INM but does not control the company, in part because his 29.95 per cent stake was not enough to block all resolutions at shareholder votes.

It has emerged recently in court papers that Leslie Buckley, when he was chairman of INM, allegedly consulted widely with Mr O’Brien on matters at the company as diverse as pensions, acquisitions and the appointment of reviewers over a boardroom row.

The NUJ has also called upon Denis Naughten, the Minister for Communications, to clarify claims in court papers as part of a regulatory push to appoint High Court inspectors at INM that the minister consulted with a representative of INM over his decisions regarding company acquisitions.

The minister is due to make a statement to the Dáil at 3pm.

A spokeswoman for the BAI has been contacted for comment, but the regulator has yet to issue a response.