John Drennan: Government will curb media ownership in bid to avoid UK-style 'print empires'
The Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte will outline the Government's policy on media diversity and competition at a major Media Diversity Conference in Dublin tomorrow.
In a speech that will have significant implications for future media ownership patterns in Ireland, Mr Rabbitte will say that the central objective of new legislation, currently being drafted, will be to combat the "the undesirability of allowing any one individual or undertaking to hold significant interests within a section or across different sections of media businesses".
In what is likely to be seen as a seminal outlining of future government policies on the contentious issue of media ownership, Mr Rabbitte will also refer to the constitutional importance granted to the media when it comes to the lives of citizens.
In his speech, Mr Rabbitte will confirm the Government "will legislate for new media-specific and principles-based criteria" and that when it comes to future mergers, their effects on "plurality'' will be a key issue.
Though Mr Rabbitte is anxious to note that governments should only intervene "sensitively'' in media matters, the minister will say "a robust and diverse media sector both in terms of ownership and in content is a prerequisite for any democratic society".
He will also make it starkly clear that a key challenge for governments is to preserve "both freedom of expression and media plurality''.
In spite of the sensitivity of such issues, Mr Rabbitte will also warn that there is a case for "carefully crafted" government intervention because "the proper functioning of our democratic system depends ultimately on liberty of expression and all that entails".
The minister will warn that "an excessive concentration of media ownership and control invokes risks that go beyond those involved in the case of ordinary goods and services".
Citing the UK experience of "print media empires'', the legislation, which is expected to be unveiled in draft form later this year, will according to Mr Rabbitte involve the "need for a specific set of tests around concentration of ownership".