Monday 11 December 2017

Denis O’Brien rejects Sinn Féin report on media ownership, adding the 'future of traditional media is bleak'

Denis O'Brien Photo: Bloomberg
Denis O'Brien Photo: Bloomberg
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Businessman Denis O’Brien has rejected the findings of a Sinn Féin commissioned report into media ownership in Ireland while warning the “future of traditional media is bleak”.

In a lengthy statement this evening, Mr O’Brien is heavily critical of the report and the coverage it was afforded in a variety of media outlets.

He cast doubt over the independent nature of the report given it was commissioned by Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan on behalf of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group of the European Parliament.

He adds that Gerry Adams’ party “is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly”.

The report claimed Ireland has "one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy" and says it is "imperative that urgent action is taken, and seen to be taken, to reassure journalists, media organisations and the wider public".

It cites RTÉ and Mr O’Brien, who is a shareholder in the publisher of this website Independent News & Media, as the two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape.

And it recommends a Commission of Inquiry into media ownership in Ireland.

However, the businessman said today that it fails to put any focus on the fact RTÉ is the largest media entity in Ireland, the only entity involved in TV, radio and print and is subsidized by license fees amounting to €178.9m.

He makes reference to Sinn Féin’s position on the Apple tax judgement, noting that on the eve of the Budget, Sinn Fein TD Eoin O’Broin said: “Budget Day is all about choices. For decades, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have looked after the big guy – whether that be Denis O’Brien or Apple.”

In response, Mr O’Brien says: “I am absolutely convinced that the contribution that Apple has made in this country is unquantifiable in financial and social terms.

“What about the thousands of young women and men who did not have to emigrate and who got a chance to work, live and raise families in Cork?

“I have said that Apple should not be punished for its tax arrangements in Ireland.”

The statement describes Sinn Fein’s stance on Apple as “both anti-enterprise and anti-Irish”.

He also takes issue with a section of the report which lists him as the chairperson of Communicorp which owns Newstalk and Today FM.

“It maybe a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not. I suppose why let the facts interfere with the agenda and the messaging…” Mr O’Brien said., before acknowledging that he is the owner of Communicorp which “which like RTE, TV3, The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post operates in a very challenging environment”.

He goes to question whether members of the media are objective when talking and writing about the industry.

“The media industry in Ireland is in decline. This decline has been ongoing for many years and it threatens an industry that has served this country exceptionally well, providing high levels of employment and spawned a number of writers who have deservedly achieved international acclaim,” he says.

The statement says that Independent News & Media was days from forced closure back 2011 and over €2bn in shareholder value had been lost. Shares had collapsed from €27.30 to 41 cents.

Mr O’Brien notes that he became a substantial minority shareholder in the company but is not on the board.

He adds: “I understand The Irish Times is currently considering various funding options.

“I believe that some media companies will not survive this decade without radical structuring including substantial funding.”

In his statement, Mr O'Brien said RTE and other media outlets did not seek a comment from him in response to the report.

“But maybe the powers that be in Montrose felt that they had been given a ‘free pass’ in the report that they chose just to quote from it?"

Tonight, RTE Head of News Kevin Bakhurst claimed RTE had contacted Mr O'Brien's representatives.

However, a representative for Mr O'Brien again claimed they were not contacted.

“I do not believe the Irish media is objective in relation to matters relating to itself. The prime reason is survival.

“Every media executive and journalist knows that the future of traditional media is bleak. It makes one entity undermining another easier to justify,” he said.

Mr O’Brien concludes: “The report references the words ‘chilling effect’ and the law in the same sentence. I bow to Sinn Fein’s superior knowledge on these topics.

“Maybe instead of commissioning reports Sinn Fein would commit just some of its vast resources and support an ailing industry - become a fully-fledged broadcaster and publisher and create some jobs for a change?”

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