Dáil Éireann - Volume 510 - 04 November, 1999

Other Questions. - Commission on the Newspaper Industry.

6. Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has received the report on the newspaper industry; if so, if she will publish this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21863/99]

76. Mrs. Owen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has received the report on the newspaper industry; if so, if she will publish this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22041/99]

Ms Harney: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 76 together.

The Competition and Mergers Review Group, established by my predecessor, published a discussion document on the newspaper sector in March 1999 and invited comments on its document by 30 April 1999. I asked the group to take account of, and advise me on, how best to implement certain recommendations of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry dealing with [336] competition issues. These CNI recommendations concern the factors to be considered in regulating changes of ownership of newspapers, an amendment to merger law to enable consideration to be given to the acquisition of control over newspapers by means other than the acquisition of shares and the consideration of the issue of concentration of ownership on a media-wide as well as on a single media basis.

This issue forms but one part of the overall and broad ranging work of the review group. In July 1998 the review group published a discussion document on mergers law generally and work continues on its wider consideration of competition policy. In September 1999 the review group published a discussion document on competition law and invited comments by 18 October 1999. When the review group has assimilated and considered all the comments of the public and interested parties, the chairman expects to submit its final report and recommendations to me, covering all these matters, by the end of this year.

Mr. Stanton: Why is it taking so long? This has been ongoing for some time. Is there any way it can be speeded up?

Ms Harney: It has taken a long time. This group was established by my predecessor, Deputy Richard Bruton in 1996. I do not know why it has taken so long. It is a pity it has, but I understand the final report is due probably before the end of the year, but if not, probably shortly thereafter. When we receive the final report, we will be in a position to take action and make decisions regarding the main issues of concern to all Deputies on all sides of the House. For the future, the statutory company law group, which will be established on foot of the recommendation in the company law enforcement report, will solve many of the problems which have emerged with review groups and recommendations. The fact that a dedicated group will be appointed on a statutory basis to report every second year will mean that we will be able to continue to update company law more quickly than has been the case in the past.

Mr. Perry: The print media is now owned by a small number of players and a large consortium within that owns most of the provincial titles. There is also a merger of print media and local radio ownership. This is an area of considerable concern. People in the print media have large cheque books. Is the Minister aware of the monopoly risk attached to the merger of radio and print media?

Ms Harney: I am. In the past the issue of cross-media ownership did not arise. However, with modern technology and digital television, it will be crucial that we have appropriate laws relating to the acquisition of market share, not just regarding a single aspect of the media but on a cross-media basis. That is why I look forward to [337] receiving the final report. We have several papers at national level and many at local level and we also have access to foreign newspapers, not to mention local radio. What is important is that there is competition. One of the pillars of democracy is free press and that is important, but we must also ensure there is competition because, as we all know, the press has enormous influence in any society. The press informs, educates and entertains people and it is essential we have competition in so far as possible in the newspaper industry.