I Have Nothing Worth Suing For So Here Goes Nothing


From top: Denis O’Brien; Anne Marie McNally

At the risk of sounding repetitive, we need to talk about media ownership and/or control. We specifically need to talk about it in an Irish context and I will continue to risk being branded repetitive by continuing to raise this issue.

A 2016 research project by Dr Roddy Flynn from Dublin City University found that Media plurality in Ireland was at ‘high risk’. 2016, some 43 years after the problem was first raised by former NUJ President John Devine.

When Mr Devins raised those concerns back in 1973 during Tony O’Reilly’s takeover INM, he was told the NUJ were fighting a losing battle because ‘no politician would pick a fight with someone who prints newspapers.’

Those words weren’t misplaced when it came to the February 2017 vote on a Bill tabled by the Social Democrats attempting to regulate media ownership. Fine Gael voted against the Bill while Fianna Fáil and Labour abstained.

And so it was that the majority of TDs didn’t fancy the fight with anyone who printed newspapers and thus the Bill was defeated. 1973 – 2016…Plus câ change.

Over the course of those 43 years whenever the issue of media control is raised, the main protagonists will shout about how they stay completely removed from any editorial decisions; that they exert zero influence or attempted influence over the editorial line and therefore the issue of who owns the media outlet is inconsequential.

But where is the proof of that?

I certainly can’t find any but there is no shortage of compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

The past 10 or so days have witnessed an escalating story regarding the alleged data breach within INM.

INM titles account for the largest circulation numbers in the print media in Ireland. The Independent’s online news site is one of the most widely accessed on a daily basis in Ireland.

It controls major national titles but also many local and regional titles. The majority shareholder in INM is Mr Denis O’Brien. Its former (until very recently) Chairman was Mr O’Brien’s long-term business associate, Mr Lesley Buckley.

In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, Gavin O’Reilly, the former Chief Executive of INM (who was ousted by O’Brien in the bitter battle between O’Brien and the O’Reilly family for control of INM) claims that during his tenure at INM he came under ‘sustained pressure’ from Lesley Buckley to remove the investigative reporter Sam Smyth from covering the Moriarty Tribunal.

The Tribunal had been established based on the superb work of Sam Smyth. That Tribunal was investigating the allegation that Denis O’Brien had made corrupt payments to the then Minister for Communications Micheal Lowry to secure the second mobile phone licence.

The Tribunal found unequivocally that Mr O’Brien had paid Mr Lowry and was thus corruptly awarded the mobile phone licence.

So why did the INM Chief Executive come under ‘sustained pressure’ from Buckley, who was an INM Board member at the time, to remove one of the best investigative reporters in the country from covering the Moriarty Tribunal?

Because Mr O’Brien was ‘very upset’ with Smyth apparently.

That doesn’t exactly Indicate a hands off approach to editorial decisions now does it?

When Anne Harris left her position as editor of the Sunday Independent she went public about what she claimed was editorial interference by O’Brien.

In 2014 Gavin Sheridan writing on TheStory.ie noticed a significant change from an early evening print edition of the Sunday Independent and the later evening edition in an editorial piece written by Ms Harris.

In the early edition Ms Harris’s piece read:

“Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in INM. In theory, with 29pc of the shares, he does not control it. In practice, he does.”

The later edition had not just changed the conclusion, but in doing so had changed the entire meaning of Ms Harris’s piece. It simply read:

“Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in INM. In theory, with 29pc of the shares, he does not control it.”

Now talk to me again about the supposed hands-off approach to editorial line within media outlets under Mr O’Brien’s control?

It is worth remembering that here is a media owner (aside from being the major shareholder in INM he also owns 100% of Communicorp which operates Newstalk, TodayFM, Spin108, and 98fm among others) who has initiated 12 separate legal cases against journalists or media outlets. Not to mention attempts to use the courts to silence Parliamentarians or PR companies.

Indeed even satire has come into the legal cross-hairs of Mr O’Brien as Waterford Whispers news can testify. So it is that the much mooted ‘chilling effect’ exerted by Mr O’Brien is not just superstition and it ensures his control of the media in Ireland extends far beyond the titles for which he has legal ownership or control.

While there’s no denying that Mr O’Brien is a significant concern in terms of the high-risk to Ireland’s media plurality (and no ‘chilling effect’ can stop me stating that fact) it is undoubtedly time for us to take a serious look at the influence of any owner of significant portions of our media.

As the INM story unfolds we learn that Lesley Buckley, as Chairman of INM, (but bear in mind he is also a long-term associate of O’Brien) initiated the data breach and that the breach was paid for by a company called Blaydon which is beneficially owned by Denis O’Brien.

That ‘data-breach’, or hacking, depending on your perspective, has potentially compromised the personal data of huge numbers of employees and those they corresponded with and most significantly, has potentially compromised the identity of, and details provided by, sources used by Journalists in INM.

If you take only one thing away from the convoluted mess that is the INM story as it unravels over the coming weeks, keep an eye to the breadcrumbs that will be laid between the major shareholder, Mr Buckley and the names that emerge from the INM19 and the undoubtedly more to come.

Look closely at whether those names are of people who have been perceived to have somehow crossed O’Brien.

Those connections will undoubtedly be there but the ‘chilling effect’ will most likely mean that journalists will be forced to try paint you a picture wherein you’ll have to try and join the dots yourself or they’ll risk facing a day in court with Ireland’s largest media mogul.

View the unraveling story in terms of a reworked version of The New York Times motto of: ‘All the news that’s fit to print’. In Ireland, and on this story especially, it’s more likely: ‘All the news that’s safe to print’.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

36 thoughts on “I Have Nothing Worth Suing For So Here Goes Nothing

          1. bisted

            …guilty…especially when it comes to my lack of appreciation for your hilarious, random soccer references…

          2. bisted

            …oh dear…seems I’ve fallen foul of the star chamber who deem commenters worthy of contributing to this site…bit of an own goal on my part so….

          3. Brother Barnabas

            yeah, that’s right, bisted: i’m the one posting comments on others’ comments, deeming whether they’re worthy or not


  1. Murtles

    Who uses their hand furthest away from the seat belt to grab the seat belt?
    That’s all I have on this topic.

    1. edalicious

      Everyone, surely? If I’m driving, I’ll grab the belt buckle with my left hand to plug it in on my left side.

      1. Rob_G

        Yes – dozens of cyclists are killed each year, garroted by seatbelts from behind closed car doors…

  2. david

    It is standard practice in Ireland to award a mobile licence to a person who ran defunct bankrupt shopping channels in another jurisdiction.
    This is where it starts and it goes further.
    DOB is so connected he has a modem .
    The best thing is he will be cleansed and at the end will be a saint so saintly a moving statue will appear to have him canonised. All curtsy of the state that will pay the money out of taxpayers money

  3. Jonickal

    “Those words weren’t misplaced when it came to the February 2017 vote on a Bill tabled by the Social Democrats attempting to regulate media ownership. Fine Gael voted against the Bill while Fianna Fáil and Labour abstained.”

    Because the SocDems bill was a pile of nonsense.

    1. Bossman

      Of course they were nonsense. Sure there’s no other reason the government would vote down an opposition bill.

      1. Cian

        Lets see the content of the SocDems bill:
        insert the following
        “allow for retroactive measures to be taken by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should a situation be found to exist whereby any one relevant media asset holds significant interests within a sector or across different media businesses in the State.”

        Hmmm… So it looks like the bill was written to specifically target [redacted]. I’m not a lawyer, but writing laws like that don’t look particularly constitutional.

  4. Frilly Keane

    Jesus Christ

    for once and for all
    note this

    Denis O’Brien is a MAJOR Shareholder or the Largest Shareholder
    not the MAJORITY Shareholder in INM

    Additionally, this Shareholder has significant commercial interest in other, some of which happen to be competing News & Media operations alongside INM, therefore having access to internal CONFIDENTIAL information, or Data if you prefer,
    exposes this Shareholder to a series of compliance and regulatory risks; not to mention Reputational Risks for everyone.
    Having a Dominant Influence at Board is one thing, exercising it, exploiting it and taking advantage of it; whether it was for Financial Gain or other stuff, is another.

    The Chair of a Board of Directors – and this company trades on the Irish Stock Exchange – who ALLEGEDLY acted on behalf one shareholder’s own interests (particularly interests that are of no concern or benefit to INM) and not that of the Company as a 100% entity with many many other stakeholders btw, is what the ODCE inspectors will be seeking to prove or otherwise. Company Law, Listing Regs, Corporate Enforcement, Reporting & Disclosure failures (ie Related Party – COIs – Transparency etc) is only ONE battlefield

    the email hacking will be another war front entirely

    Once you get that everyone, you will join the dots much easier

    1. Brother Barnabas

      seems to me that regular FG supporters aren’t any keener than anyone else on o’brien – and, especially, arent happy about the obviously tight relationship between O’Brien and FG hierarchy

  5. Catherine costelloe

    Anne Harris ” People have wondered why Brendan O Connor is on the list of 19 whose data was searched in 2014. Here’s one potential reason: O Connor was among the few who stood up to the general hectoring of me”.

  6. johnny

    the timing and rather unexpected resignation of the second largest shareholders (who’s no stranger in the four courts) rep may simply just be a coincidence….
    the decisions the board off INM take will determine the course of the various investigations, as Bateson lectures and sits on the board at TCD, much is expected !

    “Mr. Bateson, if appointed to the Board pursuant to Resolution 1, will be a representative of Mr. Dermot Desmond, (the second largest Shareholder in the Company at 15% of the Existing Issued Share Capital), restoring Mr. Desmond’s representation on the Board following the resignation of Mr. David Harrison in December 2017.”


    “John has over 20 years’ experience of active participation at Boardroom level across a wide range of sectors, including three publicly quoted companies. He has also given lectures in financial accounting, auditing and governance to corporate senior management teams, to business studies students in Trinity College Dublin and to trainee accountants in KPMG.”


  7. johnny

    Dermo was recently questioned about the private tax arrangements for a company, his response about privacy,should give us a indication of how he will respond to any INM related ‘issues’-so who’s now a Rangers supporter :)

    “Are you a Rangers supporter?
    You ambushed me last night on the way to a Celtic game in the company of my family and friends. This was unwarranted and showed no respect for my privacy.”

    “If you choose to publicly state that my investments are not tax and regulatory compliant or make any other untrue allegation about me whether by innuendo or otherwise, I will take action against the BBC and against you personally in both Scotland and Ireland for defamation and breach of privacy.
    If you broadcast the video footage taken by your camera crew last night, I request that you broadcast it in full along with the entire contents of this letter. I also put you on notice not to delete or edit any of the video footage, as this will be required for court purposes.”


  8. anne

    Ok so in theory O’Brien has no control over editorial decisions, except in practise he does.

    What oversight is in place to get his little input off the table?

    If he’s not going to be removed from being the major shareholder, it needs to have so much oversight that he’d lose interest in investing in media, as he wouldn’t be able to influence anything. I am being naive? Is that possible?

    1. Johnny

      I’m no expert on irish company law,but there are some restrictions on who can be a director off public companies,like bankruptcy,but as regards ownership I don’t think there’s any restrictions ?

      One solution suggested at various times,has been to copy the Brits(the current irish govt is almost the Vichy for them)so should be straightforward…

      “the Disqualified Persons Restrictions, which prevent certain bodies or persons from holding broadcast licences generally, others from holding certain types of broadcasting licences and still others from holding broadcast licences unless Ofcom has determined that it is appropriate for them to do so“

Comments are closed.