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O'Brien ruling prompts call for review of Irish Broadcasting Act

27 July 2012

The National Union of Journalists has called on Pat Rabbitte, Ireland's minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, to review urgently the Broadcasting Act. This follows a the determination by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland that Denis O'Brien does not control Independent News & Media.

The NUJ said the determination would probably come as a major surprise to Mr O'Brien and to the O'Reilly family.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, said in a statement the distinction drawn under the current legislation governing broadcasting between "control" and having a "substantial interest" in a company was meaningless in the context of national broadcasting policy.

"Mr O'Brien's substantial interest in INM is acknowledged by the Board of the BAI. Substantial interest is defined as having 'sufficient proprietary, financial and voting strength' in a company 'to be able to influence directly or indirectly to an appreciable extent the strategic direction or policy' of the company.
"Mr O'Brien, who controls a significant number of radio stations, now influences the policy of the most powerful media group in Ireland yet the Board of the BAI is powerless to take any action other than to note this on-going undermining of media diversity."

Séamus Dooley added:

"The NUJ has long advocated a Media Commission to examine all aspects of media ownership in Ireland and today's statement by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland underlines the need for an urgent review of media ownership policy. It also suggests that there is a need for new legislation and the replacement of the current Broadcast Act, which we view as deeply flawed.
"What we need is a broadcasting policy that prevents media dominance, which enables diverse media to flourish. The distinctions drawn by the BAI may be correct in terms of the legislation, but to anyone outside the Authority, including Denis O'Brien and Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the determination that O'Brien does not actually control Independent News & Media must be something of a surprise."

Barry McCall, NUJ vice President, said:

"As a union with a substantial interest in media freedom, we call on the Government to expedite legislation allowing for the transfer of responsibility for media mergers from the Department of, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
"The move must be accompanied by meaningful reform eradicating the potential for media dominance by any powerful individual or company."

Tags: , independent news and media, broadcasting, newspapers, ownership, BAI, government ireland