Independent News and Media calls for media debate

Independent News and Media — of which Denis O’Brien owns a significant stake — said it wants “urgently” to spark a debate over ownership and consolidation of newspapers and broadcasters in Ireland, claiming “unhelpful” regulatory conditions were placed this year on its now aborted bid to take over regional publisher Celtic Media.

INM said “final conditions” made by the Broadcast Authority of Ireland “were unhelpful in terms of the overall viability of the transaction”.

Its statement came as the Government made public a range of documents which detailed the regulatory oversight of INM’s bid for Celtic Media, publisher of The Anglo-Celt, Meath Chronicle, Connaught Telegraph, and other regional titles. The media firm had dropped its proposed purchase of Celtic Media after Minister Denis Naughten’s Department of Communications submitted the INM bid to a so-called phase 1 assessment. Subsequently, Mr Naughten put the bid to a phase 2 examination by the BAI.

On the publication of the documents, INM said its bid for Celtic Media had made “commercial and strategic” sense.

“Current regulation plays into the hands of foreign media interests, who may have large interests in other markets and a limited presence in this market.

“The Irish market, like others, is also faced with competition from digital news sources such as Google and Facebook, who operate with freedom outside of regulatory constraints,” said INM.

“A real debate at policy level is urgently required on media in Ireland, including on the balance between media ownership and the consolidation necessary to protect the sector into the future and the great heritage and legacy that lies in Irish newspapers.”

The BAI documents show the watchdog wanted INM to make commitments for any approval of its Celtic Media to go ahead.

Should INM have decided to shut any of the Celtic Media titles within three years of acquiring them, it would be obliged to put those titles up for sale. INM would also be obliged to put in place a proposed governance structure to ensure that an agreed number of journalists would be employed across the titles. And INM chief executive Robert Pitt was expected to communicate to Celtic Media staff commitments about their working conditions.


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