Updated: 25/10/16 : 07:40:22
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Ruling expected on takeover of regional titles by Champion owner

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is due to rule this week on the proposed takeover of the Celtic Media Group of local newspapers by owners of the Sligo Champion, Independent News and Media (INM), .

Under legislation governing media mergers, the takeover must first be considered by the commission before being forwarded, in the event it is approved, to Minister for Communications Denis Naughten for his final approval.

The Irish Times has learned that the commission must decide on the INM bid for the local newspaper business – which would add a further seven titles to its stable – by Friday.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has opposed the move and asked the commission to block it.

The union says INM should not be allowed to further expand its newspaper stable given its current dominant position in the market.

In particular, the NUJ says the authority cannot view the takeover as simply affecting regional newspapers, but must look at the media market as a whole, where INM’s main shareholder Denis O’Brien enjoys an even larger market share by virtue of his radio and online interests.

At the launch of a report on media concentration in Dublin yesterday, London-based barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher, who co-wrote the report, said there were now “serious concerns about the condition of freedom of expression in Ireland” because of the extent of Mr O’Brien’s media ownership.

The report was commissioned by the Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan.

Warns

It warns that fear of litigation by Mr O’Brien – who has launched more than 20 High Court actions since 2010 – and the high cost of legal proceedings was leading to a “quite toxic” atmosphere for publishers in Ireland.

Ms Gallagher said that in her experience in dealing with international and UK publishers, they are “hugely anxious about publishing in Ireland” due to the State’s defamation laws.

The proposed deal between Celtic Media Group and INM would see the Independent group gain control of seven regional newspapers including the Anglo-Celt in Cavan, the Meath Chronicle and the Connaught Telegraph.

Celtic Media employs about 100 staff and is led by Frank Mulrennan, a former business editor of the Irish Independent.

Reports say that Mr Mulrennan – who led a management buy-out of Celtic in 2012 – will join INM as part of the transaction.

INM already owns a number of local newspapers including the Sligo Champion, the Fingal Independent, the Kerryman,the Wexford People and the Bray People.