Cabinet ponders newspaper industry controls

 

THE Cabinet is to consider measures aimed at controlling mergers in the newspaper industry and outlawing the below cost selling of newspapers.

A Bill, which is believed will be called the Newspaper Industry Bill, is currently the subject of a detailed memorandum being prepared by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Mr Bruton.

In November, he brought a memorandum to the Cabinet based on the report of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry, which reported last June. He was asked by his colleagues to submit detailed proposals for legislation.

Following approval, the memorandum will be circulated and the heads of a Bill will be prepared by the parliamentary draftsman.

One source suggested yesterday that a Bill could be drafted and put before the Dail before the Easter recess.

The commission was established in the context of the problems at the now liquidated Irish Press group.

In its report, which is believed to be the basis of Mr Bruton's proposals, the commission said it was satisfied there were substantial grounds for supporting the Irish newspaper industry's contention that in a number of instances UK newspapers were being sold at less than their average marginal cost.

It is believed the proposals have been especially complicated and it has proved hard to define below cost selling.

In relation to controlling mergers, the commission said it would be concerned that any further reduction of titles or "increase in concentration of ownership in the indigenous industry could severely curtail the diversity requisite to maintain a vigorous democracy".

It is believed Mr Bruton is seeking to widen powers to regulate the acquisition not only of shares, but also the control over newspapers by other means.

The commission report said one way of ensuring diversity of viewpoints in the Irish newspaper industry and encouraging plurality of ownership was through prohibit ion of mergers, takeovers or other procedures for the acquisition of control by one company by another.

It would appear that the Government is not acting on other recommendations in the commission report, including the reduction of VAT on newspapers, now levied at the highest rate in Europe, and the reform of defamation laws.