Tag Archives: Media ownership


Catherine Murphy, Social Democrats TD at the Newsocracy2 conference

This morning.

The Writers Museum, Parnell Square, Dublin

At the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) Newsocracy2 conference.

Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said:

It’s a common misconception that my interest in media ownership issues arose because of what has now become the almost infamous weekend of so-called ‘constitutional crisis’ following by a speech in the Dáil regarding the Siteserv controversy

In fact in 2012 one of the first tasks I set my then new assistant was to write a Private Members Motion on media ownership. Now due to arrangements within the Technical Group that Motion never got the chance to be debated in the Dáil, it was a significant piece of work undertaken by my office and one that we have continued to pursue over the years.

Ironically my Siteserv investigations actually had no root whatsoever in the area of media control or ownership.  I had started questioning how the Irish water contracts had been awarded and that led me down a rabbit hole within which the two issues overlapped.

I first raised concerns regarding the contracts and the personalities involved back in September 2014 and continued asking questions throughout late 2014,  the Irish people had  become owners of a bank which cost them upwards of €30bn and the distressed assets were to be sold, I felt my role was to make sure those distressed assets were disposed of for the maximum possible amount,  in other words I was acting in the public interest in pursuing those contracts.

In April 2015  the Sunday Times broke the story on the front page.   During this time I was confronted with various cease and desist letters from Mr Denis O’Brien’s camp.

Once the Sunday Times story ran it became a snowball and my questions and FOI’s made it clear to me at least that a serious investigation into the sale was warranted.

This led to a ridiculous scenario proposed by Government that KPMG – who had acted as advisers on the sale of Siteserv – would then be charged with reviewing the sales process.

I felt strongly this was not the appropriate measure and so in May 2015 my team and I complied a piece of legislation which would give the C&AG the powers to undertake the investigation. In order to introduce that Bill I had to make a 5 minute speech explaining what the Bill was about and why I was presenting it.

In that speech I outlined my concerns regarding the sales process and why I wanted a thorough investigation.

I could not have predicted the fallout of that speech. All media outlets immediately reported everything I had said but within hours everything had changed. The Irish Times had pulled their report from their website. The Journal.ie had removed it from their site and RTÉ – the National Broadcaster was reporting the fact that they could not report the contents of my speech.

At the same time RTÉ  was in court and subject to a case involving an injunction by Mr Denis O’Brien,  who is a serial litigant,  I was not party to those proceedings and therefore could not have been aware there was crossover between the two.  The Judge had issued a blanket ban on reporting the subject matter in this case.

The only media outlet which kept the story live was the small independent online news site Broadsheet.ie. Fundamentally the issue of parliamentary privilege was side-lined by all apart from Broadsheet. A speech, given by an elected representative on the floor of the National Parliament was being erased from the news cycle and the public record was effectively being tampered with.

Citizens who rely on mainstream media were left uniformed on a matter that had been raised in THEIR parliament. It was the ultimate disservice to citizens by the media upon which they are forced to rely. One powerful individual had effectively controlled the media by the mere threat of legal action.

Unbelievably this same individual also happened to be the largest private media owner in this country. (and still is!)

A weekend of confusion ensued when legal departments in newsrooms up and down the country refused to trust Article 15:13 of the Constitution when faced with a threat from this powerful individual.

Article 15:13 enshrines the concept pf parliamentary privilege and the reporting of any utterances made in the Oireachtas. O’Brien’s threat had challenged that concept and newsrooms had been chilled into acquiescence.

There were a few instances of people printing the speech and giving it out on the streets.  Social Media was widely used to share it,  at all times it remained on the Oireachtas/Parliament Website.

Broadsheet held out and on Sunday, the Sunday times ran the story and my speech in full. Others eventually followed suit but not before an entire weekend of confusion had ensued.

The reverberations of that weekend are still being felt with journalists and politicians acutely aware of how real the threat to our press freedom is and how a gagging order on the national parliament very nearly came to pass.

The following Tuesday the judge in the injunction case against RTE clarified that the injunction could not have applied to a speech made in the Dail.

The incident reinvigorated by interest in what I see as a fundamental pillar of democracy – a free and open media, capable of speaking truth to power and objectively challenging vested interests without fear or deference.

When we are faced with a situation where any powerful individual not only owns the significant majority of our print & broadcast media but also exerts such a severe chilling effect on titles not under his control then it is very clear we have a serious problem.

That is why today the Social Democrats will introduce the Media Ownership Bill 2017 into the Dáil and host a debate in Private Members Time on February 8th. The Bill sets out to retroactively apply the guideline which states that anything above a 20% shareholding in a media business may not be in the public interest.

Change is long overdue and we feel strongly that our Bill is a vital first step  in bringing about change in this area.


Yesterday: Free Tomorrow?



The cover of the Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland and Denis O’Brien

This afternoon.

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan has published a Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland, which she commissioned on behalf of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group of the European Parliament.

It was written by lawyers in Belfast and London.

Ms Boylan’s report follows a report in March – about media plurality and ownership in Ireland by the Centre for Pluralism and Media Freedom, led by Dr Roderick Flynn of Dublin City University.

From the report:

Ireland has one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy. Accumulation of what has been described as “communicative power” within the news markets is at endemic levels, and this, combined with the dominance of one private individual media owner in the State, creates what the Media Reform Coalition has described as “conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass huge political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests and personal views”.

The two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape are the national State broadcaster, RTÉ, and an individual businessman, Denis O’Brien…

…First, Mr. O’Brien has initiated a large number of sets of proceedings since 2010, including 12 cases against media organisations in relation to their coverage of his business affairs. Analysis stretching back almost two decades, to 1998, suggests that Mr. O’Brien has regularly made threats of legal action, and instituted legal proceedings, against journalists and media organisations.

Any wealthy individual bringing such a large number of claims seeking to restrict press coverage of their business dealings would raise concerns regarding freedom of expression and the potential for such litigious profligacy to have a ‘chilling effect’ on newsgathering and reporting in the public interest. However, when the wealthy individual in question is also the “largest owner of private media in the State,”  those concerns and risks are substantially increased.

The Report’s authors are aware of suggestions that there are legal bars to any such action being taken, but we reject any suggestion that it is not legally permissible to address the status quo and that tackling the current concentration of media ownership is impossible given the importance of property rights in the Irish Constitution and/ or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

On the contrary, our conclusion is that there is, in principle, no such legal bar. A retrospective mechanism could indeed be permissible under the Irish Constitution, EU law, and the ECHR.

…The devil is very much in the detail, and these are difficult issues. What is now needed is a careful review of the detail, and, accordingly, the Report recommends that the Government establish a cross-disciplinary Commission of Inquiry.

Read the report in full here




At the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dublin 8.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers is hosting a conference on ‘safeguarding journalism, media ownership and democracy’.

She writes:

This all-day conference will question the concept of media diversity and ownership in both online and traditional print media – and explore the implications for traditional notions of democratic accountability and journalistic independence.

To seek an answer to these questions and explore issues around ownership and challenges presented by online news sources two pieces of research will be launched on the day.

The research undertaken by Nessa Childers in partnership with the Institute For Future Media and Journalism (FUJO/DCU) examines the relationship between large media shareholders and media content through coverage of four major news stories in Ireland between the years 2012 to 2015 – and the second piece of research looks at how social media affects different news organisations differently through a series of interviews with these organisations to find out about their experiences.

Speakers will include Renate Schroeder, director of European Federation of Journalists; Seamus Dooley, secretary of the NUJ; Flutura Kusari, legal advisor at European Centre for Press and Media Freedom; Michael O’Keeffe, CEO of Broadcasting Authority of Ireland; Dr. Roddy Flynn, of Dublin City University; and Gemma O’Doherty, investigative journalist.

Daniel McConnell, political editor of the Irish Examiner; Jane Whyatt, of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom; Dr Jane Suiter and Dr Eugenia Siapera, of DCU; Christine Bohan, deputy editor of TheJournal.ie; David Cochrane, social media editor of the Irish Times; Anne Marie McNally, political strategist and founding member of the Social Democrats; and Niamh Sweeney, head of public policy at Facebook Ireland, will also speak.


Book a place at the conference here


Communications Minister Alex White


From the Irish Times letters page…

“I don’t understand why Minister for Communications Alex White is so averse to legislation to clean up past media ownership deals that are strangling freedom of speech (“McDowell ‘chancing his arm’, says Minister”). In the past Mr White has vigorously defended openness. But he is guardian of an industry where Denis O’Brien has been allowed a controlling interest in media from Antrim to Kerry, in print and on the airwaves.”

“Diversity is obviously necessary in media ownership. But both the Competition Authority and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland have been remiss in protecting the public interest on this issue. Why? It seems to me that corporate power speaks loudest in the ears of each of these bodies.”

Mr White believes “constitutional property rights” prevent retrospective legislation. But the nursing home charges in 2004 were installed under a retrospective law. Neither the Supreme Court nor his own Government have done anything to reverse that situation. The constitution forbids retrospective criminal legislation, but is silent on such retrospective civil legislation as this.”

“Sadly I fear Mr White gets to the heart of the issue when he also cites “labyrinthine commercial issues”. It’s my guess that, at the heart of that labyrinth is a Denis O’Brien, still awaiting his Theseus.
Dublin 7.”

Diversity of media ownership (Irish Times)

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.36.54
Denis O’Brien, who has a 29.9% stake in Independent News and Media and who owns the Communicorp radio group

Draft Government guidelines on media ownership are to be released by Communications Minister Alex White later today.

It follows the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland determining, in  July 2012, that Denis O’Brien does not own Independent News and Media but, rather, that he has a ‘substantial interest’ in the company.

Ahead of this, Fiach Kelly, in the Irish Times, reports:

New Government guidelines on media mergers say it is “undesirable” for one person or business to hold excessive influence and introduce a “public value” test for future consolidation in the industry.

The draft guidelines, which will apply across print, broadcast and online, also set out thresholds that specify how many shares or holdings are needed to be able to influence the “direction or policy … with regard to news, current affairs or cultural content”.

They say that “a holding or voting strength of more than 20 per cent … will generally constitute a significant interest”, while a 10 per cent share could also constitute a “significant interest”.

There you go, now.

‘Public value’ test to be introduced for media ownership (Fiach Kelly, Irish Times)

Related: Shadow of Denis O’Brien looms over new media merger guidelines (Fiach Kelly, Irish Times)

Previously: Denis O’Brien’s Editorial Interference: The Smoking Gun

Well, That’s A Relief