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Denis O'Brien hits out at report which raises concerns about media ownership in Ireland

In a statement released tonight, O’Brien said the report makes for “very interesting reading”.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews,ie

DENIS O’BRIEN HAS hit out at a new report which raises concerns about media ownership in Ireland.

The report, which was commissioned by Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan for an EU grouping, takes aim at both RTÉ and the billionaire media mogul.

It describes Ireland as having “one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy”, with the two main controlling entities being RTÉ as state broadcaster and “individual businessman Denis O’Brien”.

The report also describes Denis O’Brien’s “litigious profligacy” in detailing the 12 lawsuits he has taken against Irish media organisations and personnel in the last six years, and describes Ireland’s defamation culture (ie that in which juries routinely make very high awards to successful plaintiffs) as being “wholly out of kilter with the rest of Europe”.

In a statement released tonight, O’Brien said the report makes for “very interesting reading”.

He accuses Sinn Féin of pushing its agendas and calls the party “anti-Irish” over its stance on Apple.

He also states that he is not the chairman of Communicorp and criticises media outlets and the report for naming him as such.

O’Brien also accused RTÉ of not asking him for a response in their coverage of the report. However, RTÉ says this is incorrect and that it did ask for a response but did not receive one.

The statement, which has been published in full below, begins by questioning the independence of the study.

At the outset it is worth noting that it is self-described as “An Independent Study Commissioned by Lynn Boylan MEP on behalf of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group of the European Parliament”.

An “independent study” commissioned by a leading member of Sinn Fein? Hardly.

“The two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape are the national State broadcaster, RTE, and an individual businessman, Denis O’Brien” this Report states.

Yet there is no focus on RTE in the context of:

  • The largest media entity in Ireland
  • The only entity involved in TV, radio and print
  • Revenues subsidised by licence fees amounting to €178.9 million

But then this ‘independent study’ was never intended to be a report on the concentration of media ownership in Ireland.

‘Pushing Agendas’

Sinn Fein is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly. After a disappointing General Election, An Phoblact went on the attack: “State broadcaster came in for severe criticism as it slashed Sinn Fein’s coverage following a poll …which showed the party gaining ground…and for two days the voices of Sinn Fein were banned from the airwaves in a bizarre episode that was reminiscent of Section 31 and state censorship.” (March 7. 2016)

And on the eve of the Budget, Sinn Fein TD, Eoin O’Broin declared: “Budget Day is all about choices. For decades, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have looked after the big guy – whether that be Denis O’Brien or Apple.”I am absolutely convinced that the contribution that Apple has made in this country is unquantifiable in financial and social terms. What about the thousands of young women and men who did not have to emigrate and who got a chance to work, live and raise families in Cork?

I have said that Apple should not be punished for its tax arrangements in Ireland. Sinn Fein’s stance on Apple has been, I believe both anti-enterprise and anti-Irish. “Sinn Fein has been waiting with some relish for the EU verdict,” wrote Pat Leahy in The Irish Times (August 30, 2016) “and leaped into action:’Give us back our money’ demanded MEP Matt Carthy. For good measure, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty also called for a public inquiry into Apple’s tax arrangements.”

Communicorp

This report states that I am chairperson of Communicorp, as has various individuals including Dr. Colum Kenny, Dr. Roderick Flynn and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, legal firms Jonathan Price (Belfast) and KRW Law (London) and media organisations including The Irish Times and TV3. It maybe a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not. I suppose why let the facts interfere with the agenda and the messaging…

Is the media objective when it is talking and writing about itself? The media industry in Ireland is in decline. This decline has been ongoing for many years and it threatens and 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.

Independent News & Media (INM) was days from forced closure back 2011. Over €2 billion in shareholder value had been lost and the shares had collapsed from €27.30 to 41 cents as a previous board had racked up unsustainable levels of debt. I became am a substantial minority shareholder in INM (I am not on the board).

I am the owner of Communicorp which like RTE, TV3, The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post operates in a very challenging environment. I understand The Irish Times is currently considering various funding options. I believe that some media companies will not survive this decade without radical structuring including substantial funding.

‘Chilling Effect’

I was surprised, for example, that RTE (and others) did not seek any comment from me on the ‘Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland’ in the interests of balance and objectivity. But maybe the powers that be in Montrose felt that they had been given a ‘free pass’ in the report that they chose just to quote from it?

I do not believe the Irish media is objective in relation to matters relating to itself. The prime reason is survival. Every media executive and journalist knows that the future of traditional media is bleak. It makes one entity undermining another easier to justify.

Sinn Fein/ IRA certainly got the report they paid for. The cost of this report won’t have have bothered them too much. They collected €12 million over 20 years in the US (Irish Times March 7, 2015). The IRA is reported to have €400 million in global assets (Irish Times August 29, 2015). Brian Feeney, author, has suggested that a way should be found to stop “Sinn Fein people saying the IRA has gone away when self-evidently it hasn’t.”

The report references the words ‘chilling effect’ and the law in the same sentence. I bow to Sinn Fein’s superior knowledge on these topics.

Maybe instead of commissioning reports Sinn Fein 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?

The Managing Director of RTÉ news and current affairs has taken to social media to say that the state broadcaster did ask for a response from Denis O’Brien.

Bankhurst has also called for a correction.

The comments have been closed on this article due to the high volume of flagged comments. 

Read: Communications Minister admits he hasn’t read report which criticises media ownership in Ireland>

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