Is Irish media ownership too concentrated? Here's who is behind the major players

A few billionaires feature prominently in the news sector.

By Paul O'Donoghue Reporter, Fora

WHO OWNS IRELAND’S media has become an increasingly controversial topic over the last few years.

Some political figures, perhaps most notably Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, have spoken out recently to oppose what they view as an increasing consolidation of Ireland’s news industry.

The issue arose again last month, when Ireland slipped down the annual Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, from ninth to 14th.

The non-profit group specifically referenced the issue of the country’s media ownership, saying that the “highly concentrated nature of media ownership in Ireland poses a major threat to press freedom”.

But just who does own Ireland’s media? We take a look.

There are a few caveats to this list, the main one being that it is focused on news media. Trade or niche publications, such as the Irish Catholic, are not included.

The exception is if a company which owns a major news brand also owns other media companies or outlets. These are included, while local newspapers or broadcasters are only included if they are part of a wider group.

Independent News and Media (INM)

File Photo DIGITAL ADS HAVE picked up the slack from The Irish Independent
Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Ireland’s largest print media group owns several Irish national newspapers: the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, the Herald and the Sunday World. It also owns the Belfast Telegraph and has a 50% stake in the Irish Daily Star.

The group has websites for all of its major publications, while the firm holds several classified websites and recently took over Carsireland.ie.

It owns a string of regional newspapers, including the Wexford People, the Kerrryman and the Sligo Champion.

The firm is also waiting for government approval to clear its takeover of Celtic Media, which owns prominent regional papers including the Connaught Tribune, the Anglo Celt and the Meath Chronicle.

INM also owns several magazines and Newspread, one of the country’s biggest wholesale newspaper and magazine distributors.

Billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien is INM’s largest shareholder, with a 29.9% stake. Financier Dermot Desmond controls 15% of the company through his IIU Nominees Ltd investment vehicle, while several investment banks, including UBS, also have significant stakes in the firm.

The Irish state

90263520_90263520 The Late Late Show on RTÉ
Source: Michael Chester/RollingNews.ie

The state owns RTÉ, Ireland’s largest television and radio organisation, which operates as a commercial, semi-state body.

The broadcaster dominates the airwaves and television screens. Almost all of the country’s most-listened to radio shows are on RTÉ Radio One, while the RTÉ One television station commands about double the market share of its nearest rival, TV3.

The state also owns Irish-language public service broadcaster TG4.

Communicorp

denis o brien rolling 1 Communicorp founder Denis O'Brien
Source: RollingNews.ie

Communicorp owns Ireland’s largest commercial news radio stations, Newstalk and Today FM, which are the only real, national rivals to RTÉ for news radio coverage.

The company also owns a string of light entertainment and music radio stations, including Spin 1038 and 98 FM.

Communicorp is almost wholly owned by billionaire Denis O’Brien, who, as mentioned above, is also the largest shareholder in publisher INM.

The Irish Times

IRISH TIMES OFFICES The Irish Times clock
Source: Graham Hughes/RollingNews.ie

The newspaper and its website are owned by the Irish Times Trust.

The group also owns several other outlets as a result of its ill-fated policy of diversification during the boom, which left the organisation struggling financially. These include property website Myhome.ie and Gloss magazine.

The trust is controlled by a maximum of 11 governors, who are appointed on the basis that they are “representative broadly of the community throughout the whole of Ireland”.

Tom Arnold is the current chair of the trust. Arnold is a former chief executive of Concern Worldwide and is the director-general of the Institute of International and European Affairs, a non-profit Dublin policy research body that is backed by some of Ireland’s biggest companies.

Landmark Media

90293279_90293279 The Irish Examiner
Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Landmark Media owns the Irish Examiner as well as a string of regional newspapers, including the Evening Echo, the Kildare Nationalist and the Roscommon Herald. The firm also has interests in several radio stations, including WLR FM, Beat 102-103 FM.

It owns several website, including Breakingnews.ie and sports and ‘banter’ website Benchwarmers. The company is owned by Tom and Ted Crosbie, whose family has owned the Irish Examiner since the 19th century.

In April, the Sunday Business Post reported that both the Irish Times and INM have entered into an official sales process for the Irish Examiner. However, the Irish Independent reported the next day that INM is not involved in the takeover talks.

News Corp

Immigration Forum Rupert Murdoch
Source: Josh Reynolds/PA Images

The US media conglomerate owns the Irish edition of the Sunday Times and the Irish Sun. The company started a digital daily edition of The Times of Ireland last year and also plans to launch a print edition.

A deal last year also saw the company snap up half a dozen radio stations in the Republic from the Wireless group, formerly UTV Media. Its stations now include Dublin stations FM104 and Q102 as well as Cork’s 96FM and C103.

The firm is in the middle of a takeover bid for Sky, the largest pay-TV provider in Ireland, and it also acquired Dublin-based social media news agency Storyful in 2013.

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch is the founder of News Corp, one of the largest media companies in the world. Murdoch and his family own about 14% of the company but together control about 39% of the voting rights.

Liberty Global

Liberty Global Virgin Media Liberty Global chairman John Malone
Source: AP/Press Association Images

Another US media conglomerate, Liberty Global is the owner of Virgin Media Ireland, which in turn bought TV3 from a private-equity firm in 2015.

TV3 is the largest commercial station in Ireland and the only real challenger to RTÉ. Virgin Media also recently acquired UTV Ireland, an attempt to introduce a third major broadcasting force to the Republic.

The effort proved unsuccessful and much of UTV Ireland has been absorbed into TV3, which has since launched a new female-orientated channel, BE3.

US billionaire John Malone is Liberty’s chairman and a significant shareholder in the company. He has several other business interests in Ireland, including some of the country’s largest hotels.

Malone’s communications empire is a significant rival to both Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Digicel, Denis O’Brien’s Caribbean-focused focused telecoms giant.

Trinity Mirror

Northern & Shell shares talks The Daily Mirror
Source: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive

London-listed Trinity Mirror owns the Irish Mirror and Sunday Mirror, as well as the Sunday People.

The firm also has two newly launched websites, DublinLive and BelfastLive, and it recently acquired RSVP, one of Ireland’s most popular women’s magazines.

Trinity Mirror’s largest shareholders are several investment companies, including Edinburgh-based Aberforth Partners and Standard Life Investments.

Daily Mail

90434163_90434163 A man reads the Irish Daily Mail
Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The publicly quoted Daily Mail & General Trust, known as DMGT, in turn owns DMG Media Ireland, which publishes the Irish Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday newspapers.

DMG also established the showbiz and lifestyle-focused Evoke.ie three years ago, and recently launched the mobile-friendly news site Extra.ie.

Jonathan Harmsworth, whose great-grandfather founded the Daily Mail, is DMGT’s chairman.

Key Capital

sunday business post The Sunday Business Post

Dublin-based private equity firm Key Capital has a majority stake in the company that is behind the Sunday Business Post.

The Dublin-based financial advisory firm was part of a group including Paul Cooke, the managing director of the company that operated the Irish Daily Star, that bought the newspaper out of examinership in 2013.

A new holding company for the Business Post, Sunrise Media, was set up in 2012. Key Capital is the majority shareholder in the firm, which also owns Cork-based printing business Webprint.

Key Capital was set up by businessman Conor Killeen in 2001. Killeen is still a major shareholder in the company behind Key, according to its most recent annual return. He stood down as chief executive of Key earlier this year but remains as chairman.

Journal Media

fora-launch-pic Brian and Eamonn Fallon with Fora editor Peter Bodkin (centre).

Journal Media owns Fora, as well as sister titles, TheJournal.ie, The42 and DailyEdge.

The company was set up and is owned by brothers Brian and Eamonn Fallon, who also founded Distilled Media – the firm behind the Daft.ie property site.

Distilled Media merged with Oslo-based Schibsted Media Group in 2015 to create the Distilled Sch joint venture. The combined company also controls classifieds site DoneDeal and online marketplace Adverts.ie.

Iconic Newspapers

limerick leader The Limerick Leader

Iconic Newspapers owns over a dozen of Ireland’s most prominent regional newspapers. These include the Limerick Leader, the Leinster Leader and the Kilkenny People.

The company bought the outlets from Johnston Press, which owns over 200 outlets across Britain and Ireland, for €8.7 million in April 2014. Iconic is controlled by British advertising executive Malcolm Denmark.

Denmark, a racehorse owner, has a range of business interests and is also the majority shareholder of Mediaforce. Mediaforce is one of the largest independent sales companies in the UK, and sells advertising on behalf of a range of media outlets.

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