New report says government must address Denis O Brien’s media ownership

0
152

Titled “Report on the concentration of media ownership in Ireland” the independent study was commissioned by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan on behalf of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group within the EU Parliament and carried out by four lawyers at two UK-based legal firms.

The report, which can be read here, says Ireland has “one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy” with the two main controlling entities being RTÉ as state broadcaster and “individual businessman Denis O’Brien”.

Boylan launched the report in Ireland yesterday afternoon at the Cliff Town House on Stephen’s Green, having previously presented it to the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in Leipzig, Germany on 6 October.

Lynn Boylan pictured at launch of report yesterday. Photo credit Sinn Fein Twitter page

She has now called on Communications Minister Denis Naughten to establish a commission to investigate the Irish media market.

The authors of the report say the situation needs to be addressed rapidly:

“We consider there to be a perfect storm which poses grave risks to freedom of expression and media pluralism in the Irish market”.

Denis O Brien is the largest shareholder in Independent News & Media (INM), which owns this countries two best-selling papers, The Irish Independent and Sunday Independent plus the Sunday World and the Evening Herald.

It also owns the Belfast Telegraph, 50% of the Irish Daily Star and 13 regional weekly papers

O’Brien is also chairman and principal shareholder of Communicorp, which owns Ireland’s leading commercial radio talk stations, Newstalk and Today FM as well as 98FM, SPIN 1038, TXFM and SPIN South West.

With regard to O Brien’s dominance of the market, the report says:

“Ireland has one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy.

“Accumulation of what has been described as “communicative power” within the news markets is at endemic levels, and this, combined with the dominance of one private individual media owner in the State, creates what the Media Reform Coalition has described as “conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass huge political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests and personal views”.

This new report also makes much reference to a similar report released in March by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), which gave Ireland a score of 0.7 (on a scale of 0 to 1.0) with regards to how concerned citizens should be regarding the state of media ownership here, a result that put Ireland forth worst EU member state for high concentration of media ownership.

As well as the ownership of so much media by one individual, the report also spoke of the “chilling effect” Ireland’s defamation laws have on press freedom and Mr O Brien’s willingness to use these laws against the press.

“Mr. O’Brien has initiated a large number of sets of proceedings since 2010, including 12 cases against media organisations in relation to their coverage of his business affairs.

“Analysis stretching back almost two decades, to 1998, suggests that Mr. O’Brien has regularly made threats of legal action, and instituted legal proceedings, against journalists and media organisations.

“Any wealthy individual bringing such a large number of claims seeking to restrict press coverage of their business dealings would raise concerns regarding freedom of expression and the potential for such litigious profligacy to have a ‘chilling effect’ on news gathering and reporting in the public interest.

“However, when the wealthy individual in question is also the “largest owner of private media in the State,” those concerns and risks are substantially increased.”

The authors believe it “imperative that urgent action is taken” and dismiss “suggestions that this is a constitutional no-go area, or an European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) no-go area”.

OTHER CONCLUSIONS FROM THE REPORT:

The Government should establish “a cross-disciplinary Commission of Inquiry” into media plurality here which should report as soon as possible

That the report recognises that its field of investigation is “an extremely difficult area”

Speaking at the report’s launch yesterday, Lynn Boylan said:

“It is not just media outlets that are afraid.
“Politicians seem to balk at the thought of effectively dealing with the issue.
“We need a media that holds those in powerful positions to account, one that seeks the truth and ensures that the public has access to the truth.
“The Minister and all politicians must now show the political backbone required to take on those in dominant positions.