‘Irish Examiner’ was at risk if ‘Irish Times’ deal had been blocked

Report for Minister laid out media plurality imperative for approving takeover

A selection of Irish Times newspapers. Photograph: Frank Miller

A selection of Irish Times newspapers. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Officials at the Department of Communications concluded that a takeover by The Irish Times of the company that published The Irish Examiner would help to preserve media plurality because of the financial risks for the Cork-based paper of the deal not going ahead, according to documents published yesterday.

The deal to acquire the publishing assets of Landmark Media, including The Irish Examiner, seven weekly regional titles, and interests in three radio stations, was completed this month after it was cleared by the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten in June.

The department’s rationale for approving the deal under media plurality rules was published yesterday. It noted that “the difficult financial position” of the assets purchased would be improved by joining forces with The Irish Times.

It said that, despite the fact that a deal would reduce diversity of newspaper ownership, “this may ultimately have a less adverse impact on media plurality in the State” than if the deal did not go ahead.

The document, comprising a report by officials for the minister, noted The Irish Times’s annual revenues of almost €78 million last year and its cash balances of more than €11.5 million. It also highlighted the heavy debts of Sappho, the entity holding the assets of The Irish Examiner and other Landmark titles. “The information above raises the potential concern of the Target’s [Sappho] financial viability should the transaction not proceed,” the report said.

“However, should the proposed transaction proceed, it significantly increases the likelihood of Sappho’s future financial viability.”

The report noted that The Irish Times told officials in a submission that it would need to undertake a restructuring of the assets purchased, and to make savings “without impacting on the quality of ... the news offering.”

Print market share 

The report noted that The Irish Times and Irish Examiner combined have a print market share of 22 per cent among daily newspapers, similar to the Irish Independent.

It concluded that concerns over the deal were mitigated by the ownership structure and governance of The Irish Times, which is ultimately vested in an independent trust.

The report noted that politicians and clergy are among those barred from becoming members of the trust. It also considered the “detailed ethical objects” of the trust and the separation of commercial and editorial management at The Irish Times.