Denis O’Brien claims INM was ‘days from closure’ in 2011

Businessman responds to report on media ownership commissioned by Sinn Féin

Businessman Denis O’Brien.

Businessman Denis O’Brien.

 

Denis O’Brien, the telecoms and media tycoon, has said Independent News and Media (INM) in which he is the largest shareholder “was days from forced closure back in 2011”.

Mr O’Brien, who also owns several radio stations, including Newstalk and Today FM, also said some Irish media companies “will not survive this decade without radical restructuring including substantial funding”.

He added: “I do not believe the Irish media is objective in relation to matters relating to itself. The prime reason is survival. Every media executive and journalist knows that the future of traditional media is bleak. It makes one entity undermining another easier to justify.”

Mr O’Brien’s comments were contained in a statement he issued on Wednesday in response to a report on the concentration of media ownership in Ireland published last Monday. The report compiled by four lawyers based in London and Belfast was commissioned by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan.

It said the extent of Mr O’Brien’s media interests represented an unhealthy concentration of ownership which, allied to his willingness to use the libel laws against other media outlets, created a “perfect storm which threatens news plurality and undermines the media’s ability to perform its watchdog function.”

In his statement, Mr O’Brien was scathing about the report and suggested it was written to promote Sinn Féin’s political agenda, which was hostile to him.

“An ‘independent study’ commissioned by a leading member of Sinn Féin? Hardly,” the statement observed.

He said the report had no focus on the role of RTÉ, despite acknowledging its dominance in radio, television and online.

Mr O’Brien criticised Sinn Féin for its position on Apple’s tax arrangements as “anti-enterprise and anti-Irish.” He said Apple’s contribution to Ireland had been “unquantifiable in financial and social terms. What about the thousands of young women and men who did not have to emigrate and who got a chance to work, live and raise families in Cork?”

Mr O’Brien said that, contrary to media reports, he was not the chairman of Communicorp, the company that owns several radio stations, including Newstalk, Today FM and Spin 1038.

However, he acknowledged he was the owner of the company.

He said Sinn Féin “certainly got the report they paid for” and pointed to the party’s lucrative fundraising in the United States. He also cited reports of up to €400 million in global assets owned by the IRA and suggested Sinn Fein could commit some of its “vast resources” to support an “ailing industry” — “become a fully-fledged broadcaster and publisher and create some jobs for a change?”

The statement from Denis O’Brien

“An ‘independent study’ commissioned by a leading member of Sinn Fein? Hardly. ‘The two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape are the national State broadcaster, RTE, and an individual businessman, Denis O’Brien’ this Report states. Yet there is no focus on RTE in the context of: The largest media entity in Ireland; The only entity involved in TV, radio and print; Revenues subsidised by licence fees amounting to €178.9 million.”

“But then this ‘independent study’ was never intended to be a report on the concentration of media ownership in Ireland. Sinn Fein is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly! After a disappointing General Election, An Phoblact went on the attack: ‘State broadcaster came in for severe criticism as it slashed Sinn Fein’s coverage following a poll . . . which showed the party gaining ground . . . and for two days the voices of Sinn Fein were banned from the airwaves in a bizarre episode that was reminiscent of Section 31 and state censorship.’ (March 7. 2016)

“And on the eve of the Budget, Sinn Fein TD, Eoin O’Broin declared: ‘Budget Day is all about choices. For decades, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have looked after the big guy - whether that be Denis O’Brien or Apple. ’ I am absolutely convinced that the contribution that Apple has made in this country is unquantifiable in financial and social terms. What about the thousands of young women and men who did not have to emigrate and who got a chance to work, live and raise families in Cork?

“I have said that Apple should not be punished for its tax arrangements in Ireland. Sinn Fein’s stance on Apple has been, I believe both anti-enterprise and anti-Irish. “Sinn Fein has been waiting with some relish for the EU verdict,” wrote Pat Leahy in The Irish Times (August 30, 2016) ‘and leaped into action:’ Give us back our money’ demanded MEP Matt Carthy. For good measure, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty also called for a public inquiry into Apple’s tax arrangements.’

“This report states that I am chairperson of Communicorp, as has various individuals including Dr. Colum Kenny, Dr. Roderick Flynn and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, legal firms Jonathan Price (Belfast) and KRW Law (London) and media organisations including The Irish Times and TV3. It maybe a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not. I suppose why let the facts interfere with the agenda and the messaging…

“Is the media objective when it is talking and writing about itself? The media industry in Ireland is in decline. This decline has been ongoing for many years and it threatens and industry that has served this country exceptionally well, providing high levels of employment and spawned a number of writers who have deservedly achieved international acclaim.

“Independent News & Media (INM) was days from forced closure back 2011. Over €2 billion in shareholder value had been lost and the shares had collapsed from €27.30 to 41 cents as a previous board had racked up unsustainable levels of debt. I became am a substantial minority shareholder in INM (I am not on the board).

“I am the owner of Communicorp which like RTE, TV3, The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post operates in a very challenging environment. I understand The Irish Times is currently considering various funding options. I believe that some media companies will not survive this decade without radical structuring including substantial funding.

“I was surprised, for example, that RTE (and others) did not seek any comment from me on the ‘Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland’ in the interests of balance and objectivity. But maybe the powers that be in Montrose felt that they had been given a ‘free pass’ in the report that they chose just to quote from it?

“I do not believe the Irish media is objective in relation to matters relating to itself. The prime reason is survival. Every media executive and journalist knows that the future of traditional media is bleak. It makes one entity undermining another easier to justify.

“Sinn Fein/ IRA certainly got the report they paid for. The cost of this report won’t have have bothered them too much. They collected €12 million over 20 years in the US (Irish Times March 7, 2015). The IRA is reported to have €400 million in global assets (Irish Times August 29, 2015). Brian Feeney, author, has suggested that a way should be found to stop “Sinn Fein people saying the IRA has gone away when self-evidently it hasn’t.”

“The report references the words ‘chilling effect’ and the law in the same sentence. I bow to Sinn Fein’s superior knowledge on these topics.

“Maybe instead of commissioning reports Sinn Fein would commit just some of its vast resources and support an ailing industry - become a fully-fledged broadcaster and publisher and create some jobs for a change?”