Saturday 24 March 2018

O'Brien rejects claims in SF's report on media

Businessman Denis O'Brien Photo: Tony Gavin
Businessman Denis O'Brien Photo: Tony Gavin

Kevin Doyle and Philip Ryan

Businessman Denis O'Brien has issued a strong critique of Sinn Féin and rejected the findings of a report that the party paid for into media ownership in Ireland.

In a lengthy statement, Mr O'Brien criticised 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 said Gerry Adams's party "is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly".

The statement came just hours after Communications Minister Denis Naughten dismissed as "bizarre" suggestions in the report that the Government could enact legislation which would force media outlets to sell elements of their business to ensure media diversity.

The Sinn Féin-backed 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 as the two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape. Mr O'Brien is a shareholder in Independent News & Media, the publisher of the Irish Independent.

The report recommends a Commission of Inquiry into media ownership in Ireland.

However, the businessman said it failed 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 subsidised by licence fees amounting to €178.9m.

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

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan Picture: Collins
Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan Picture: Collins

"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 said.

In his statement, Mr O'Brien said that RTÉ 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 [so] they chose just to quote from it?"

In response, RTÉ Head of News Kevin Bakhurst claimed RTÉ had contacted Mr O'Brien's representatives for comment.

Mr O'Brien's spokesman also said RTÉ's brief coverage of Mr O'Brien's statement was a further example of the broadcaster's bias, as the Sinn Féin report was given far more airtime.

RTÉ said it was not commenting further on the matter.

The statement described Sinn Féin's stance on Apple as "both anti-enterprise and anti-Irish". "The report references the words 'chilling effect' and the law in the same sentence. I bow to Sinn Féin's superior knowledge on these topics," he said. "Maybe instead of commissioning reports, Sinn Féin 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?"

He also takes issue with a section of the report which lists him as the chairperson of Communicorp. "It (is) maybe a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not," Mr O'Brien said.

Irish Independent

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