Media merger shake-up planned

 

Legislation is to be introduced in the coming months which will give the Department of Communications the ultimate power to decide on media mergers and acquisitions including all broadcast, print and online media.

Communications minister Pat Rabbitte announced the move in Sligo this evening at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Sligo Champion.

He said the convergence of print, broadcast and online media both in terms of content and ownership had made  “a very strong argument for a single arm of Government to be responsible for supervision.”

Citing work carried out by the Media Mergers Advisory Group, which reported in 2008, he said the Government had now approved proposals for legislation, which are being finalised by the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise, Richard Bruton.

The legislation will put in place a statutory definition of media plurality, referring both to ownership and content, and will provide for an on-going collection and the periodic publication of information, and the use of concrete indicators in relation to media plurality.

“Because cross-media mergers are being dealt with for the first time, and because broadcasting mergers are already dealt with by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland under my Department, I and my Department will become responsible for media mergers as a whole”, the minister said.

Mr Rabbitte added that the ownership of media organisations, and the control of media mergers and acquisitions, has always been regarded as raising issues above and beyond normal competitive concerns. “This is because plurality in the media encompasses the interlinked concepts of diversity of ownership and control, on the one hand, and diversity of content, on the other,” he said.

He also gave an initial reaction to calls from the National Newspapers of Ireland for a full-blown ‘Minister for the Media’, to act as an ‘interlocutor in Government’, so that the concerns of the newspaper industry could be factored into policy-making and into any legislation affecting the media.

He said that although the question had not received consideration by Government, he would be cautious about any such moves. He said he recognised the argument of the industry that economic independence was an essential condition of press freedom. But he did not want to see the media becoming a client of a Government department: the media must be in a position to challenge the Government and should never be beholden or subservient to it.