8 February 2017 Dáil Éireann
I will begin my closing statement by echoing the earlier statement by Minister Naughten, which is that any debate on Media Plurality is to be welcomed. A robust and pluralistic media is vital to the democratic process and to the daily lives of the Irish people. I want to thank all of the Deputies who have participated in the debate.
I share the Minister's concerns about the proposed amendments to the Competition Act 2002 (as amended) contained in this bill.
Minister Naughten set out in his opening statement the reasons why both amendments are legally unsound. I will focus my contribution on the stated focus of this Bill, which is to provide the Minister for Communications with the power to take retrospective action against Media Businesses who exceed certain thresholds of ownership within a media sector, and across media sectors.
The impetus for the current regime for media mergers arose from the recognition of the importance of an open and transparent media and the acceptance that the evaluation of media mergers needed to include an assessment of the impact on media plurality in addition to the standard competition assessment that applies to mergers in other parts of the economy. The matter was debated in great depth during the passage of the 2014 legislation as befits a topic as important as this and indeed, the issue of retrospection was also debated at that time.
As stated by Dr. Roderick Flynn at the recent newsocracy conference on Media Plurality, held in Dublin last Tuesday, ownership is one factor which must be considered when addressing Media Plurality in the State, but there are others which must also be considered.
Dr. Flynn's upcoming report for the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom in Europe will point to risks he has identified around diversity of content, and the access of women and minorities to the media. These issues are also among the criteria and factors which must be considered by the Minister, which include but are not limited to; ownership & control, governance & editorial management, and content, including diversity of content.
Section 28D of the Competition Act (2002) sets out all of the issues which the Minister must consider in making his initial assessment. It is only when all of these factors have been considered individually and collectively, can the Minister come to a conclusion as to whether a proposed transaction is a matter for concern.
Media Plurality in Ireland:
Ireland's media landscape is unique due to our size and location on the edge of Europe, our linguistic heritate and our membership of the European Union. As a result of these issues, there are very real constraints on the power of the State to ensure a pluralistic media, and changes which occur internationally can have a considerable effect here.
The current regime seeks to take account of these issues, and provide a responsive and to a certain extent futureproofed, process for protecting media plurality.
I agree with Minister Naughten that the current regime to assess Media Mergers is working well. The matters and criteria which he must take into account when conducting an initial assessment, and which the BAI must take into account when conducting a full assessment ensure that he, as Minister, can make a decision which protects media plurality in the State.
The amendments proposed by the Deputies are legally unsound, and would have serious negative consequences for an industry in which revenues are decreasing, or static at best.
These are the most important reasons why I am opposing the Media Ownership Bill 2017.
I therefore recommend that this Bill be opposed.