Media merger guidelines set for Cabinet approval

9 june 2015 / By Fiach Kelly

New media mergers guidelines which say it is “undesirable” for one person or business to hold excessive influence in the industry are set to be passed by Cabinet on Tuesday.

Minister for Communications Alex White is expected to publish the guidelines once they have been passed by Ministers at their weekly meeting.

Submissions made by media groups and businesses as part of a public consultation process on the guidelines will also be published.

Mr White was expected to bring his proposals to Cabinet last week but they were postponed.

The moves also introduce a “public value” test for future consolidation in the industry. However, they will not apply retrospectively.

The guidelines, which will apply across print, broadcast and online, also set out thresholds that specify how many shares or holdings are needed to be able to influence the “direction or policy . . . with regard to news, current affairs or cultural content”.

They say that “a holding or voting strength of more than 20 per cent . . . will generally constitute a significant interest”, while a 10 per cent share could also constitute a “significant interest”.

A “significant interest” is defined as having “sufficient voting, financial or ownership strength” to influence direction or policy.

The draft guidelines set out how a media merger will be assessed and the new “public value test” is described as the most important element. It involves “a more thorough definition of media concentration than before” and deals specifically with cross-media ownership.

“It is undesirable,” it says “to allow any one media business or individual to hold excessive significant interests within a sector or particularly across different sectors of media businesses in the State”.

The guidelines say “higher levels of consolidation of management structure . . . may adversely affect media pluralism”.

The National Union of Journalists and others have raised concerns about the levels of media ownership of billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien is the biggest shareholder in Independent News and Media (INM), with a 29.9 per cent stake, but has been deemed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland not to control INM.

Mr O’Brien also owns Communicorp, the radio group that includes Today FM and Newstalk.

Newstalk also supplies news to some 20 local stations around the country.



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