Media ownership law to focus on public interest, says Rabbitte

 

THE PUBLIC interest will be a key factor in new legislation governing media ownership, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has pledged.

The Minister said the new rules for media mergers, which will form part of a complex Competition Bill, will be published in the autumn.

Mr Rabbitte also rejected claims that there was any foot dragging by the Government in bringing forward the legislation, which is the responsibility of Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton.

He said he had proposed speeding up the process by extracting the sections dealing with media mergers from the larger Bill, but this had not happened for administrative reasons.

“There is no conspiracy about this. It is merely the business of trying to bring complex legislation through the system in the quickest way possible,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said the Government’s legislative schedule had been dislocated to an extent by the requirement to fulfil the obligations imposed by the EU-IMF troika programme. However, he insisted the competition legislation would involve the transfer of responsibility for the media to his department.

Mr Rabbitte said the legislation would make it clear that the public interest would have a higher priority with respect to mergers in the media than in other areas of business.

“Diversity of content and diversity of ownership is more important in the media than in other enterprises because it has an impact on the quality of our democracy. I am confident that the Bill will have regard to these principles,” said Mr Rabbitte.

He said aspects of the legislation relating to the media would rely heavily on the principles contained in the report of the advisory group on media mergers, which was presented to the former government in 2009.

The chairman of this group was senior counsel Paul Sreenan and its recommendations have become known as the “Sreenan principles”. One of those principles is that there should be a statutory definition of media plurality, which would deal with the issues of ownership and content. A statutory test to be applied by the Minister in relation to media mergers will be included in the Bill.

Another of the Sreenan principles was that there should be an ongoing collection and publication of information on media plurality as well as a system of notification of media mergers to the Minister for clearance.

It was also proposed there should be an obligation on parties to a media merger to provide full information to the Minister on all circumstances that might impair media plurality with appropriate penalties for non-compliance.

A requirement that the Minister should publish guidelines to assist undertakings involved in media mergers in knowing how the Minister would in general apply the relevant criteria was also included.

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