Businessman Denis O’Brien should be called before an Oireachtas committee in relation to Independent News & Media’s (owners of The Sligo Champion
) proposed takeover of a local newspaper group, a union representing Irish journalists has said.The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has written to the chair of the Oireachtas Communications Committee in relation to the proposed takeover of Celtic Media Group by INM.
Last November, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), which polices mergers and takeovers, approved the acquisition, ruling that it “would not lead to a substantial lessening of competition” in the areas of business concerned.
The Irish Times
reports that under the deal with Celtic Media Group, INM would gain control of seven regional newspapers including the Anglo-Celt in Cavan, the Meath Chronicle and the Connaught Telegraph.
It already owns a number of local newspapers including the Sligo Champion, Fingal Independent, Kerryman, Wexford People and the Bray People.
The NUJ opposes the takeover and has asked the commission to block it. The union says INM should not be allowed to further expand its newspaper stable given its dominant position in the market.It argues the authority 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.
Irish secretary of the NUJ Seamus Dooley wrote to Hildegarde Naughton, the Fine Gael TD who chairs the communications committee. He said he hoped “favourable consideration” would be given to the request from the NUJ that the committee hold a public hearing into the proposed acquisition. The next meeting of the committee is on Tuesday.
Mr Dooley noted Minister for Communications Denis Naughten had requested that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland conduct a full investigation into the takeover and that the committee had been advised to make a submission.
“I believe that any such submission should be informed by evidence from the parties involved including CMNL Limited, INM, Mr Denis O’Brien and the NUJ.“Mr O’Brien holds significant shares in INM and has a range of media interests through his role in Communicorp and is therefore a person of interest to the committee,” Mr Dooley said.
He said he was respectfully suggesting that the committee chair invite Tipperary TD Michael Lowry of the Rural Independent Group to recuse himself from any discussions on the proposed media acquisition. Mr Lowry is a member of the Oireachtas Communications Committee.
“Mr Lowry’s relationship with Mr O’Brien is a matter of public record and was the subject of adverse findings by the Moriarty Tribunal,” Mr Dooley wrote.
Mr Lowry could not be reached for comment on Monday evening.People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said she would raise the issue before the committee and that she “fully supported” the NUJ’s position.
“I think the monopoly that’s developing in media ownership in the country is worrying. I think they are correct to request that Michael Lowry absent himself because of his strong connections with Denis O’Brien,” she said.
Mr Dooley is also expected to address the issue in a speech at a seminar organised by the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin on Tuesday morning.