O'Brien slams Sinn Fein commissioned report on Irish media landscape

Communicorp owner questions why media outlets failed to reach out to him for comment on the report's release

Irish businessman Denis O’Brien has rejected the findings of a report commissioned by Sinn Féin into media ownership in Ireland.

In a lengthy statement released this afternoon, the businessman - who holds shares in Independent News and Media and is the owner of Communicorp - said Irish journalists are already aware that "the future of traditional media is bleak."

Mr O’Brien questioned the independence of the Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland which was commissioned by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan.

He said the report "makes for very interesting reading" adding that Sinn Fein "certainly got the report they paid for."

“An ‘independent study’ commissioned by a leading member of Sinn Fein? Hardly,” said Mr O'Brien.

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

“Sinn Fein is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly.”

The report found that Ireland has "one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy" and calls for urgent action to be taken to “reassure journalists, media organisations and the wider public."

Recommending a Commission of Inquiry into media ownership in Ireland; it points to Mr O’Brien and RTÉ as the two most controlling entities in Irish media.

Mr O’Brien said the report fails to fully focus in on RTÉ as "the largest media entity in Ireland" with "revenues subsidized by license fees amounting to €178.9 million."

He also pointed out that RTÉ is the only entity involved in TV, radio and print.

He outlined his “surprise” that RTÉ and other media organisations had not reached out to him for comment on the report saying he does not believe that the Irish media is objective when talking and writing about the industry and "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.

“This decline has been ongoing for many years and it threatens an 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,” he said.

The statement goes on to say that Independent News & Media (INM) was “days from forced closure” in 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," he said.

Mr O’Brien noted that he became a substantial minority shareholder in the company but is not a member of the board.

He also takes issue with a section of the report which lists him as the chairperson of Communicorp - which owns Newstalk and Today FM.

“It may be a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not. I suppose why let the facts interfere with the agenda and the messaging…,” he said.

Mr O’Brien acknowledged that he is the owner of Communicorp which he said “like RTÉ, 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,” he said.

“I believe that some media companies will not survive this decade without radical structuring including substantial funding.”

The statement finishes with further attacks on Sinn Féin over the party’s links to the IRA.

"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," said Mr O'Brien.

"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?"