Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences


The proposed €200m takeover of three radio stations by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp group reignited the issue of the increasing concentration of ownership in the broadcast media. Last month, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) approved the proposed sale of Today FM and Highland Radio from EMAP to Communicorp, but did not approve the proposed sale of Dublin radio station FM104 to Denis O’Brien’s company.

Chief executive of the BCI, Michael O’Keeffe acknowledges that there are concerns that control of the Irish broadcast media has fallen into the hands of a few big players, such as Communicorp, UTV and Thomas Crosbie Holdings, but says the rising concentration of ownership is part of the nature of the industry.

“When the sector was developing first, there were different mixes of shareholders in each local franchise area,” he says.

“That was useful in getting the sector established. But as it is now an industry, you move on and there’s always consolidation when that happens. The important thing is that the opportunity is always there for other people to be able to enter the market.”

Despite the consolidation of these large companies, Mr O’Keeffe says there is still a diversity of voice within the Irish broadcast sector.

“Programming obligations, which each station we regulate are required to follow, ensure that diversity is provided. For instance, if there is one owner owning a range of stations, we would ensure that they provide different types of programme content. Take the Communicorp situation in relation to Today FM and Newstalk. The two stations provide two different services to listeners so clearly there is no overlap in terms of programme content. A single owner doesn’t equate to a uniformity of content.”

However, he says that the BCI remains committed to reviewing the subject of ownership and control, and will conduct a policy review late next year.

The current ownership and control policy, which precludes any single owner from holding more than 25 per cent of the total number of radio stations licensed, was drafted in 2005.

“We will certainly continue to review the subject as the market is constantly changing,” he says. “The current policy replaces the one we had in 2001. So I would see it as part of our next strategy to look at the whole ownership and control issue and do another review.” Mr

O’Keeffe stresses the point that there is no regulatory duplication between the BCI and the Competition Authority regarding the broadcast media. While the 2001 ownership and control policy looked at an applicant’s dominance of the advertising market, this area is now only examined by the Competition Authority.

“The Communicorp case is a good example of the difference between the two bodies,” Mr O’Keeffe says. “Whereas the Competition Authority looks at the advertising market, the BCI looks at ownership issues in terms of programme diversity. We’re interested in the diversity of sources and outlets that listeners and viewers have.

The Competition Authority might come to a different view on the market, but that’s just a reflection of our different roles. We have a Memorandum of Agreement with them where we share information from various issues that arise, but when it comes to making a decision we’re very clear about what we’re deciding on and they’re very clear about what they’re deciding on.”

The proposed €200 million takeover of three radio stations by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp group reignited the issue of the increasing concentration of ownership in the broadcast media. Last month, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) approved the proposed sale of Today FM and Highland Radio from EMAP to Communicorp, but did not approve the proposed sale of Dublin radio station FM104 to Denis O’Brien’s company.

Chief executive of the BCI, Michael O’Keeffe acknowledges that there are concerns that control of the Irish broadcast media has fallen into the hands of a few big players, such as Communicorp, UTV and Thomas Crosbie Holdings, but says the rising concentration of ownership is part of the nature of the industry.

“When the sector was developing first, there were different mixes of shareholders in each local franchise area,” he says.

“That was useful in getting the sector established. But as it is now an industry, you move on and there’s always consolidation when that happens. The important thing is that the opportunity is always there for other people to be able to enter the market.”

Despite the consolidation of these large companies, Mr O’Keeffe says there is still a diversity of voice within the Irish broadcast sector.

“Programming obligations, which each station we regulate are required to follow, ensure that diversity is provided. For instance, if there is one owner owning a range of stations, we would ensure that they provide different types of programme content. Take the Communicorp situation in relation to Today FM and Newstalk. The two stations provide two different services to listeners so clearly there is no overlap in terms of programme content. A single owner doesn’t equate to a uniformity of content.”

However, he says that the BCI remains committed to reviewing the subject of ownership and control, and will conduct a policy review late next year.

The current ownership and control policy, which precludes any single owner from holding more than 25 per cent of the total number of radio stations licensed, was drafted in 2005.

“We will certainly continue to review the subject as the market is constantly changing,” he says. “The current policy replaces the one we had in 2001. So I would see it as part of our next strategy to look at the whole ownership and control issue and do another review.” Mr

O’Keeffe stresses the point that there is no regulatory duplication between the BCI and the Competition Authority regarding the broadcast media. While the 2001 ownership and control policy looked at an applicant’s dominance of the advertising market, this area is now only examined by the Competition Authority.

“The Communicorp case is a good example of the difference between the two bodies,” Mr O’Keeffe says. “Whereas the Competition Authority looks at the advertising market, the BCI looks at ownership issues in terms of programme diversity. We’re interested in the diversity of sources and outlets that listeners and viewers have.

The Competition Authority might come to a different view on the market, but that’s just a reflection of our different roles. We have a Memorandum of Agreement with them where we share information from various issues that arise, but when it comes to making a decision we’re very clear about what we’re deciding on and they’re very clear about what they’re deciding on.”

 

This article appeared in the PAI Journal issue 43, November 2007. For more information on the PAI Journal, the essential monthly guide to legislative, regulatory & public affairs in Ireland, click here.