Publisher INM warns titles will close without consolidation
Independent News and Media (INM plc) has warned that newspapers will close and journalism jobs will be lost unless there is consolidation in the sector.
INM, publishers of four national titles, including the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and online news portal independent.ie, has also said that future media merger transactions could be deterred owing to the lack of what it describes as a "fit-for-purpose" regulatory process, saying that the current system is too costly and "takes far too much time".
The country's leading media group, which said that current regulation "plays into the hands of foreign media interests" issued a statement in response to freedom of information (FOI) requests in respect of its planned but aborted acquisition of Celtic Newspapers Limited (CMNL) which publishes several regional titles including the 'Meath Chronicle'.
The proposed merger was approved by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission late last year but later referred by Communications Minister Denis Naughten for a phase 2 examination by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).
Last June, nine months after the announcement of the transaction, INM and CMNL said that they had decided to move forward on a separate footing. The transaction was terminated with both parties having incurred "material costs".
INM, which earlier this month issued a profit warning, said that it firmly believes that a "significant opportunity" for both INM and CNML was lost following the collapse of the proposed merger, adding that it had co-operated fully with the CCPC, the Department and the BAI throughout the process.
INM cited a number of factors for its profit warning, including a decline in circulation and readership, a decline in advertising revenues, ongoing uncertainty arising from Brexit, lower than expected growth in digital revenues and increased costs arising from legacy libel awards.
"Facing the combined challenge of declining circulation and advertising, and consumption via social media platforms - it is essential that newspaper consolidation takes place, be that on a regional, national or global basis," said the company in a statement.
"The alternative is that these rates of decline will accelerate resulting in the closure of newspaper titles, the loss of managerial, editorial and production jobs, and ultimately the loss of diversity of voice."
INM said further media merger transactions would be deterred unless there was a fit-for-purpose regulatory process.