Sunday 21 July 2019

New media merger guidelines published

Minister for Communications Alex White
Minister for Communications Alex White

John Downing Political Correspondent

The Communications Minister will have the power to decide if a proposed merger between companies involved in media is in the public interest.

New guidelines on mergers between companies involved in radio, television, newspapers or online media have been published by Alex White.

These set out the steps to allow the minister decide whether a merger is in the public interest in terms of diversity and a good mix of ownership.

The guidelines indicate that the primary factor will be the size of the operation which those involved already have in the media business.

The most important issue will be a so-called "significant interest," in terms of shareholding or voting strength, which gives the party involved in any merger the real decision-making power, especially in news, current affairs and cultural matters. These guidelines for the first time attempt to value "significant interest".

This centres around 20pc of an operation - though in some instances it could be in the 10-19pc range.

"Media plurality is essential to the health of our democracy. The guidelines outline how I will apply the relevant criteria when assessing the impact of a proposed merger on media plurality," Mr White said.

These final guidelines include an exemption from the process where it is clear that no question of impairing public interest exists. There are also new protections for Irish language media, and members of an advisory panel, to help implement the guidelines, are required to have specific knowledge and experience of media.

In practice, when the Communications Minister believes that a merger could harm the public interest, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) will examine the issue.

Irish Independent

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