Rabbitte says media ownership will be key focus

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said diversity of media ownership will be one of his guiding principles when he assumes legislative responsibility for newspapers and broadcast media in Ireland later this year.

Mr Rabbitte who previously said he wanted to deal with the “harmful effects” of an over-concentration of media ownership in Ireland was responding to a question as to whether he was concerned about billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien’s perceived dominant position in the Irish market.

“I believe that diversity of ownership and diversity of content are our two cardinal principles”, he told the Irish Examiner.

Mr O’Brien has the largest shareholding (29.9%) in Independent News & Media, which accounts for approximately 40% of all newspaper sales in Ireland and he owns Communicorp, which has interests in six independent radio stations including Newstalk and Today FM.

Recommendations on promoting diversity and preventing monopolies by the Advisory Group on Media Mergers are to be included in the long-awaited Consumer Protection and Competition Bill which Jobs and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton said is now at an advanced stage.

Media responsibility will be transferred to the Department of Communications when the Bill is passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr Rabbitte said the 40% average fall in newspaper sales in recent years was a “big issue for society” as the combination of declining advertising revenues and the internet pose a huge challenge which he is very concerned about.

He said general, all-purpose traditional style news print media throughout the world had not adapted well to the new media age.

The effects of this have been highlighted in the UK where the National Union of Journalists and other organisations have raised concerns over the so-called “democratic deficit” where newspaper companies have cut back in their coverage of local courts and local government

Mr Rabbitte said it would be very difficult to see how the world of public affairs could function without the print media. He doubted whether new media outlets such as Twitter could fulfil the function of print.

“I think [print] media has a significant formative influence on the character of public debate and on the very nature of our democracy and does the twitter era have much to contribute in that space? I’m not sure that instantaneous, constrained commentary greatly advances our understanding of complex, phenomena that confront public affairs all the time.”

Mr Rabbitte rejected the idea of direct financial intervention by the Government to help the print industry because “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

However, newspapers had benefited from the reduction of Vat to 9% in the tourism sector and he said further taxation measures were always an option to help the struggling industry.

“I think on issues like taxation, Government has responded and can respond in that area but in terms of direct injection of funding — I think Government would be very reluctant,” the minister said.

A Market Perspective

Pat Rabbitte on... Sean O’Rourke Vs Pat Kenny

“I think Pat Kenny has made an enormous contribution to Irish broadcasting and if I were to select somebody to replace him on RTÉ I would have chosen Sean O’Rourke... I think he’s exceptional.

“I don’t say that as someone who visits praise for the sake of praise on Irish presenters as some of them can be a pain in the arse!”

Who is he talking about? “(Laughs)… prefer not to say!”

... On Facebook and Twitter

“I have very limited use of them... I try to make a point of attracting as little additional abuse as I can.”

... On UTV’s arrival in the Irish market

“I was surprised by its decision to enter the market but I welcome it. The fact that UTV has a relationship with ITV is bound to have implications for TV3, it seems to me.

“I would be very sad if TV3 went under... It has both developed a loyal following and a niche in the Irish market and also provides some excellent public service broadcasting.”

... On how easily children can access pornography on the internet

“I have concerns about pornography on the internet. We have met with Internet Service Providers and we are struggling with what are workable solutions at the moment. There should be the same imposition on these companies to demonstrate good corporate citizenship as any other company hosted in this country.”

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