Active and diverse local newsrooms are vital for a functioning democracy according to the Social Democrats who initiated a Private Members Bill on Monday which seeks to rebalance the media landscape in Ireland by protecting the diversity of ownership and addressing the issue of media control.
Speaking after the first stage of the Media Ownership Bill 2017, Catherine Murphy TD, co-leader of the Social Democrats said:
“In a democracy, the media is expected to hold powerful institutions and businesses to account.
“However, there is significant evidence that the concentration of media ownership in Ireland is ‘high risk’.
“This is what our Bill seeks to address.
“It is particularly timely in that it coincides with Independent News & Media (INM)’s proposed takeover of the Celtic Media Group and would increase INM’s dominance in the Irish market.”
That proposed takeover, which would see INM gain control of seven regional newspapers, including the Anglo-Celt in Co Cavan, the Meath Chronicle and the Connaught Telegraph, is to be examined by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) after Minister for Communications Denis Naughten confirmed last month he wants a full review of the proposed merger.
Celtic Media, who employ up to 100 staff, is led by Frank Mulrennan, a former Irish Independent business editor.
Deputy Murphy believes local media serve a role that is important for democracy in this country She said:
“Local media provide an important democratic function by reporting what is happening in our communities and in local Government in a way that national media can’t do.
“Here in Dublin, there are strong and vibrant local newspapers and radio stations, representing and reflecting local concerns and bringing us together.
“In Ireland and beyond, this vital function is at risk as the media landscape changes due to the rise of online media; the emergence of ‘fake news’; the pressure on funds and resources that is impacting on the output of strong investigative journalism; and the concentration of ownership of media organisations.”
“Democracy depends on an active and diverse media both in terms of content and ownership. The current global and domestic situation has drawn into sharp focus the importance of a pluralistic media environment that actively challenges and holds power to account in the interests of democracy.”
The Media Ownership Bill 2017 seeks to amend the Competition Act 2002 to ensure that the 20 per cent public interest test that applies to any media mergers could be applied retrospectively to any individual or undertaking holding more than 20 per cent of the shares in a media business.
It also recognises the shift to online and digital news sources and will update the current definition of audience reach to add those sources to the existing viewership and readership definitions, which are taken into account when considering media mergers and plurality of the media.
The Bill – which will be debated during the Social Democrats’ private members’ time next Wednesday, 8th February 2017 – has been welcomed by Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists who said it is vital that this debate is put back into the public domain.