Sunday 25 February 2018

State will not fund ailing newspapers – Rabbitte

Warning comes despite report saying interventions are justified

Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

The Government will not step in to rescue struggling media outlets, including the 'Sunday Business Post', even if closures would be a "tragedy", Pat Rabbitte has warned. That's despite an EU report that says some interventions are justified.

The Communications Minister says the State will not provide funding for newspapers to ensure media diversity.

Speaking at a conference on media freedom in Dublin he said it was not the role of governments to assist commercial entities, such as privately-owned newspapers or other media sources. Government intervention in such cases goes against the very idea of media freedom, he said.

"It would be a tragedy if anything were to happen to the Crosbie Group [which owns the 'Irish Examiner' newspaper] or in particular to the 'Sunday Business Post', which is a very important Sunday paper," Mr Rabbitte said.

Mr Rabbitte was speaking alongside visiting European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes, who is responsible for the EU's "digital agenda".

Both spoke in favour of media diversity, which is "essential to democracy", according to the minister.

He warned that a small number of technology firms, mainly in the US, are the main beneficiaries of the growth of online advertising.

"The value of mobile advertising is growing very rapidly, but much of that value flows to a small number of technology companies – flowing out of national economies (and in many cases, out of the European economy)," he said.

Mergers

However, other than controlling mergers and takeovers of media companies and funding RTE and TG4 as public service broadcasters, there is very little the State can do, he said.

"There are very few positive steps available."

Media mergers will be governed by new rules as part of legislation on competition that the Government is seeking to pass, he said.

Mr Rabbitte's remarks contradict the recommendations of the European Commission's High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, several of whose members also spoke at the seminar.

The European advisory committee says states should fund the media if it is essential for diversity but not commercially viable. Ms Kroes announced the launch of a public consultation on those recommendations at the event.

The minister did, however, suggest that the new broader TV licence, if it was collected more efficiently with less evasion, might be "made more accessible".

That suggests that funds raised by the licence fee could be shared among a wider number of both public and private operators.

Licence revenue is currently distributed between RTE, TG4 and to independent broadcasters through the Sound and Vision fund operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

However, there is no suggestion that money might be available to other media companies outside of broadcasting, the only sector which currently receives TV licence funding.

Mr Rabbitte said other privately owned broadcasters were providing public service content but how they would continue to fund it was a concern.

He told the conference yesterday that "much of what can be done is difficult and potentially dangerous. In many ways media is a bit like that delicate flower – it is easily trampled, even by the well-intentioned".

Irish Independent

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