THE Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists has given a guarded welcome to what the union describes as “lamentably late draft guidelines” covering media mergers in Ireland.
Minister for Communications Alex White T.D., published the draft media merger guidelines today, marking the beginning of a public consultation process which ends on 22nd January. The union has renewed demands for a wider review of the media in Ireland.
The draft guidelines have been prepared under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014, which came into effect last month and the NUJ warns that the final guidelines will be too late to alter the media landscape in Ireland.
In a statement Séamus Dooley said: “The decision to transfer responsibility for media mergers from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was first announced by Deputy Pat Rabbitte at an NUJ conference in 2011. It has taken that long for the commitment to be honoured. Since the acquisition of Independent Newspapers by Tony O’Reilly in 1974 the NUJ has been demanding greater vigilance by the State in ensuring media plurality, in terms of ownership and editorial control. While we welcome the publication of today’s consultation document the words ‘horse’ ‘door’ and ‘bolted’ spring to mind, notwithstanding the fact that Minister White has at least managed to publish the guidelines. We have witnessed the transfer of power from one baron to another in the face of appalling political cowardice.
The narrow time frame for consultation – and the release of the draft in the run-up to the Christmas period – is far from ideal but we will be responding to the document and examining how it can be strengthened. From an initial reading there is little in the guidelines which will disturb the tranquillity of dominant media players. In effect Mr White has been given the task of introducing checks and balances after the harm has been done. Successive governments have allowed a small group of powerful people to gain control of the media and the draft published today is incapable of undoing that damage. That said, the emphasis on the public interest and the recognition of the importance of plurality, diversity and editorial structures, rather than just competitive factors, is to be welcomed.
There is a need for a wider public debate on editorial control of the media – across all platforms. We need to look at editorial structures and how economic control is exercised, we need to look at training, at employment standards and at access to journalism, including the issues of gender and ethnic origin. This could best be achieved by an independent commission on the future of the media in Ireland. In the limited time available we will respond to today’s draft but we will also be examining what measures can be taken to ensure greater editorial independence, even where the State has allowed dominant owners to emerge.