A free and pluralistic media is an essential component of our modern representative democracy. The media enjoy a position of special rights and responsibilities and are an important conduit for the following:
- The exercise of freedom of expression
- The development of civic discourse
- The representation of the diversity that exists in our society
The over concentration of media ownership into a small number of hands represents a potential harm to media plurality. Such over concentration runs counter to the public interest. The channels of free expression should not be overly influenced and potentially controlled by any one individual, group or organisation.
Given this critical role it is vital to the public interest that the State protect media pluralism as far as is practicable. We have a unique position for the following reasons:
- Ireland is small nation at the edge of Europe
- Our lingual history
- Our participation in the European Union
Because of this reasons there are very real constraints on the power of the state to ensure a pluralistic media.
Ireland may be geographically an island but in terms of media consumption we are very international. English language media from the United Kingdom and the USA form a large part of our daily media consumption habits.
In 2008, an advisory group was established to review the existing legislative framework regarding media mergers. The Group was asked to examine the relevant provisions of the Competition Act 2002 (the Act). The Group’s recommendations were incorporated in the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 (the amending Act), which amended the Act.
One key change was the transfer of responsibility for the Media Mergers process from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment (the Minister). This was to reflect the particular importance of media plurality.
The new Part 3A the Act updates the legislation and addresses the following issues:
- Fragmented media
- The rise of online media
- An increasingly dynamic media sector
The primary and most important element of this section of the Act is a new public value test. This test involves a more thorough definition of media concentration than before. This new definition deals specifically with cross media ownership.
Moreover, the legislation includes a statutory definition of media plurality which refers to both ownership and content.