Thursday 18 January 2018

Proposed acquisition of Celtic Media Group by INM referred for review

Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke

Dearbhail McDonald and Philip Ryan

THE proposed acquisition of the Celtic Media Group of local newspapers by Independent News and Media (INM) plc has been referred for a full media merger review to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland by Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

Last November the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approved the acquisition of the Celtic Media Group by INM.

The CCPC (formerly the Competition Authority) ruled that "the transaction would not lead to a substantial lessening of competition" in the areas of business concerned.

However the proposed acquisition by INM, which publishes the Irish Independent, and 'Sunday Independent', as well as a number of local newspapers including the 'Fingal Independent', 'The Kerryman' and the 'Sligo Champion', is now the subject of a review under Section 28e of the Competition Act 2002.

Minister Naughten must assess - under legislation governing media takeovers - whether the deal has implications for media plurality.

If the Minister is concerned that a  media merger may be contrary to the public interest in protecting plurality of the media in the State, he can request the BAI to carry out a full media merger examination.

INM said it will co-operate fully with the Authority in the review process.

“Consolidation within the print media sector, which is undergoing significant challenges,  is essential for its survival,” said the company in a brief statement.

“Combining these two groups of regional papers would strengthen the overall newspaper channel in Ireland.  Celtic Media Group’s publishing division comprises six weekly regional newspapers, a bi-weekly newspaper, and a pre-press service.  Celtic Media’s printing business is not part of the transaction.

“The Company will provide a further update as and when appropriate”.

The Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment confirmed Minister Naughten had referred the acquisition to the BAI, which will provide a report and recommendation within the next 80 working days.

“In line with the Media Mergers Guidelines and the relevant legislation, Minister Naughten proposes to appoint an Advisory Panel to provide an opinion to the BAI,” a statement said.

“Under the Guidelines, the BAI must invite public submissions on the proposed merger and allow the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment an opportunity to make a submission.

"Following the determination by the CCPC, the parties must submit a separate notification to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Section 28 of the Competition Act 2002 sets out the process by which the Minister for Communications (and, where applicable, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) will assess the merger separately in relation to media plurality".

Full details of the Phase two assessment process are available in the 'Guidelines on Media Mergers' document which can be accessed on the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment website,” it added.

The proposed deal will see Independent News & Media Holdings Ireland Limited (INM Holdings), a wholly owned subsidiary of INM, acquire the entire issued share capital of CMNL Limited (CMNL).

CMNL owns seven regional newspapers, including the 'Anglo-Celt' in Cavan, the 'Meath Chronicle', and the 'Connaught Telegraph'.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) had opposed the move and claimed INM should not be allowed to further expand its newspaper stable.

The CCPC said its investigation identified four distinct product markets in which the businesses operated.

These markets are newspaper publishing (which includes advertising and readership); pre-press services to local/regional publishers; printing services to local/regional publishers; and the distribution of local/regional titles.

The CCPC said its analysis involved in-depth economic assessment of the affected markets, consideration of detailed submissions from the parties involved, as well as consultations with competitors of the merging parties and other third parties.

"The CCPC concluded that, although both INM Holdings and CMNL are involved in publishing local/regional newspapers, there is very limited overlap between their activities and the transaction would not lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any of the product markets mentioned above," said the commission.

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