O’Brien ‘does not have undue control of media’

THE media interests of billionaire entrepreneur Denis O’Brien are not enough to create competition concerns in the Irish market, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) has ruled.

Looking at the Dublin and south-west Ireland areas, the BCI said yesterday that Mr O’Brien “does not have control of, or substantial interests in, an undue amount of communications media in any of these franchise areas”.

Mr O’Brien has controlling stakes in radio stations Newstalk, Today FM, Spin 103.8 and 98FM in Dublin. He also has a large stake in Spin South-West and is the second-largest shareholder in Independent News & Media, behind Tony O’Reilly.

In the meantime, the Irish Times Group has increased its portfolio of online interests, by acquiring a 10% equity stake in price comparison website, uchoose.ie, for an undisclosed sum.

The transaction has been carried out via the media group’s subsidiary, DigitalworX, in response to the heightening demand for price comparison information among Irish consumers.

Elsewhere in media circles, Johnston Press – the regional newspaper publisher that recently shelved plans to sell its portfolio of 13 Irish titles, but is understood to be still looking at cost-cutting measures here – has declined to comment on speculation that it has reached a deal with its main lenders to offer them a 5% equity stake in the group, as it seeks to restructure its £450m (€521m) debt.

The Financial Times reported that Johnston was offering the equity “sweetener” to lenders as a way of restructuring its debt.

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