McDowell warns on dangers of oligarchs owning print media


FORMER TÁNAISTE Michael McDowell has said newspapers should not be viewed as a trophy possessions for oligarchs.

At the launch last night of Dr Elaine Byrne’s book, Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010: A Crooked Harp?, Mr McDowell referred to issues of media ownership in Ireland and Britain.

“Nobody is investing in the print media these days for profit. On the contrary, those who are queuing up to buy shares, it seems to me, and it seems as plain as a pikestaff, that they’re making that investment by considerations of social, political and editorial control and influence.”

Media outlets must be diverse in both ownership and editorial policy. “These are not trophy possessions for the surplus cash of plutocrats or oligarchs, like large hotels or premier football teams in the United Kingdom.”

The Leveson inquiry in Britain showed how media control and the political system could interact “and underlines the mortal dangers to democracy of surrendering ownership and control of our media to the agendas of those with demonstrated low standards coupled with ruthlessness and greed”.

He said oligarchs were also “on the march” here. “They have some allies, alas in high places, who fete them as much as they can get away with while feigning to distance themselves from them in public.”

The former minister for justice and attorney general said some office-holders had condemned hostile comments made about the Mahon tribunal in the past, “while posing for pictures and slapping the backs and whispering in the ears of those who subjected the Moriarty tribunal to a sustained campaign of vilification and abuse”.

Labour and Fine Gael would “deserve the consequences” if they did not unite to challenge what he described as “a culture of impunity fostered by the rich and powerful”.

As British politicians were learning at Leveson, “snuggling up to oligarchs doesn’t seem so good the morning after”, he said.