Varadkar calls for law on media monopolies


MEDIA MERGER legislation is required to prevent the emergence of “an Irish Berlusconi”, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Varadkar said: “No society can benefit from an excessive concentration of media ownership in the hands of one individual or one company . . . We definitely do not want to have an Irish Murdoch or Berlusconi, and legislation to address this is long overdue.”

Legislation to prevent excessive dominance in the media would have to be done in the next Dáil session or the one after, Mr Varadkar said.

Responding to a question during a session on the media and democracy, the Minister said he hadn’t given the question of a statutory press ombudsman a great deal of thought.

“But what I do think we would benefit from though is some proper privacy legislation. That hasn’t been the case, and was attempted by Michael McDowell and wasn’t seen through. I think that’s something that probably would protect the public better.”

Asked if it was something the Government was considering, he said: “Not that I’m aware of.”

The Minister said that one of the more frustrating aspects for Ministers had been the demand from the media for “real political reform” coupled to “their total disinterest in it when it happens”.

“Objectively, this Government has implemented more political reform in a year than the last one did in three five-year terms,” he said.

Prof Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University London, warned that if the state or government had power to “rein in” the media, the public would suffer in the long run.  Self-regulation was “problematic” and it was a matter being struggled with in Britain. Ireland had a system of self-regulation which largely worked. “We are the bulwark against the state. And that’s why we alone in our world need to be self-regulating.”

He noted the Leveson inquiry into the media in Britain was examining the Irish model but questioned whether it would work in the “more volatile” and more intrusive British media environment.

Of the culture of the industry, he noted: “There’s a media narcissism; in one way it’s bad because we get very self-protective and we live in our own bubble.”

But he said the very reason phone hacking by journalists in Britain had been exposed was because one part of the media – in this case, the Guardian – was prepared to take on another part.

Prof Greenslade said competition had ultimately played a role in the way publishers such as Rupert Murdoch were prepared to “turn a blind eye” to things done by journalists.

The editor of The Irish Times, Kevin O’Sullivan, also said he believed the system of self-regulation largely worked here. It was not perfect, but there was “buy-in” by the media, which was one of the key elements.  He said there was a logic to incorporating broadcasting and digital content within the one structure. This issue was problematic, but worth pursuing.

Mr O’Sullivan said well-resourced newsrooms were necessary to “support and to bring to account those who run our democracies, though some politicians may be sceptical of their ability to do so . . .

“Moreover, they are needed to expose the systemic failures of our political systems that have brought so many states, including Ireland, to the brink of financial ruin.”