January 29, 2017
The Social Democrats will highlight the importance of media plurality in Ireland through a range of actions in the coming weeks, including the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill in Dáil Éireann.
Catherine Murphy TD co-leader of the Social Democrats will speak at a conference on ‘Media Ownership Concentration in Ireland and Europe’ on Tuesday, 31st January, at the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin. The conference is organised by The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).
Directly after the conference on Tuesday, Deputy Murphy will return to Leinster House to initiate a Private Members Bill to protect the diversity of ownership and address the issue of control of media in Ireland. The Bill will be debated during the Social Democrats’ private members’ time on Wednesday, 8th February.
Commenting today, Deputy Murphy said the Bill aims to ensure that the 20 per cent public interest test that applies to any media mergers could be applied retrospectively to any individual or undertaking holding more than 20 per cent of the shares in a media business. She said the Bill will also recognise the huge shift to online and digital news sources and will update the current definition of audience reach to add those sources to the existing viewership and readership definitions, which are taken into account when considering media mergers and plurality of the media.
“In a democracy, the media is expected to hold powerful institutions and businesses to account,” said Deputy Murphy. “Yet, in Ireland and beyond, this vital function is at risk as the media landscape changes due to the rise of online media; the emergence of ‘fake news’; the concentration of ownership of media organisations; and the pressure on funds and resources that is impacting on the output of strong investigative journalism.
“Look at what’s happening in the US right now. In the past week, we have witnessed a President of the United States punishing a news organisation for reporting a story he disagreed with; his press secretary presenting a demonstrably untrue story about inauguration attendance to the White House press corps as fact; and his senior advisor introducing the Orwellian phrase ‘alternative facts’. We must not be complacent that Ireland is immune to these negative influences and the erosion of the freedom of the media.
“A functioning democracy depends on an active and diverse media both in terms of content and ownership. Yet there is significant evidence that the concentration of media ownership in Ireland is ‘high risk’, which puts the independence of this vital democratic institution in jeopardy.”
Note: The Competition Act 2002 and the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 give the Minister for Communications the power to establish guidelines on media mergers and oversee any media mergers or acquisitions in Ireland, to protect the public interest. Currently, these guidelines apply only to new media mergers. The Media Ownership Bill 2017, to be introduced by Deputy Catherine Murphy, will give the Minister for Communications the power to apply the media merger guidelines retroactively so that the Minister may apply the same guidelines to existing media ownership in the public interest and taking account of the need for media plurality.