LAST week the Competition Commission announced that it was investigating 28 media companies, including Media24 for collusion on advertising pricing, and that Caxton and Independent Media had already pleaded guilty and/or had paid fines. The investigation avoids the troubling impact of cartel behaviour already demonstrated and reported here and here.
While some may accuse the CompCom of casting its net too wide, it is most certainly picking low-lying fruit and scratching the surface. One can only hope that its next port of call is to investigate the over-concentration and cross-ownership which is stifling journalists and readers alike.
Cartels and monopolies are not simply bad for business and competition but create the situation where news itself is overly centralised and where public opinion is subject to newsroom censorship. The result is bad for democracy and the outcome, the manufacture and manipulation of public opinion, unacceptable in a constitutional state.
One has got to feel a little sorry for the fact cats at Independent right now. No sooner had they restructured the company to spin off their South African billboard advertising operation with the renamed INM outdoor, when the man who owns 26% of the company Denis O’Brien blocked the sale by calling a shareholders meeting. The result could put a permanent end to the O’Reilly dynasty. In order to bankroll the conglomorate, and keep titles such as Independent and Independent on Sunday afloat, the O’Reilly’s have to pay banks some 50 million Euros this month, which would have come from the sale of INM Outdoor.
It appears billionaire investor O’Brien wants to get rid of the O’Reilly shareholding once and for all by masterminding a collapse of the company which would allow him to cherry-pick assets. Needless to say, INM CEO Gavin O’Reilly is accusing O’Brien of having no interest in the core-business, which is surely newspapers and the newspaper industry?
Although the group has some 135 titles, when it comes to business, it is all about baked beans and crystal and O’Reilly whose interests in Heinz and Waterford Wedgewood, no longer amount to anything, will surely realise the time to make an exit is now.
Gavin O’Reilly’s father, Tony is world renowned for taking an Irish brand of yellow journalism worldwide, in an aggressive expansion of interests which blurred the boundaries between what was considered acceptable practice in the industry, and outright manipulation of news — what media critic Noam Chomsky calls the “manufacture of consent”.
Under the O’Reilly’s control, the Independent Group became merely another advertising and publicity department of commerce and real estate which was allowed to dictate and in certain circumstances fabricate news to conform with editorial policies that were driven by a boardroom populated with neo-conservatives and members of the oil industry.
Full story can be found on the Guardian