Sunday 26 May 2019

Broadcasting watchdog finds in O'Brien's favour

Laura Noonan

THE media portfolio of Denis O'Brien poses no threat to the plurality of Ireland's media ownership and control, the broadcasting watchdog has concluded.

The announcement, made yesterday, came after a three-month probe by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI).

Mr O'Brien's Irish media assets include a 26pc stake in Independent News & Media (INM), controlling stakes in radio stations Newstalk, Today FM, Spin 103.8 and Dublin's 98fm, and a substantial interest in Spin South West.

If the BCI had concluded against Mr O'Brien, the watchdog could have pushed his company Communicorp to give up some of its radio licences.

In a statement issued after a board meeting yesterday morning, the BCI said their decision in favour of Mr O'Brien hinged on two tests.

The first was whether there were substitutes available to Mr O'Brien's assets in the various franchise areas where he holds radio licences, the second was whether Mr O'Brien had "dominance in relation to opinion forming".

"Applying these tests the commission was satisfied that sufficient substitutability exists in terms of communications media in each of the franchise areas," the statement said.

"In addition, the board was satisfied that Mr O'Brien's substantial interest in Independent News and Media, coupled with his radio interests, do not constitute dominance in terms of his ability to influence opinion forming power in any of these franchise areas."

A spokeswoman confirmed the result had been unanimous. "There was a lengthy discussion and consensus was reached," she added.

She said she could not give any further details until the BCI had issued a written statement to Mr O'Brien's radio company Communicorp. That statement is expected later in the week.

Communicorp is understood to have furnished the BCI with a comprehensive defence of its and Mr O'Brien's position in the Irish market.

Yesterday's board meeting also discussed a number of other topics, including the revised ownership of Setanta Ireland and Setanta North America, which have both changed hands following the collapse of Setanta UK.

Announcements on the other matters are expected over the coming days.

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