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Journalists hit out at guidelines on media mergers

The Republic's finance minister Michael Noonan

NEW guidelines on media mergers in the Republic reflect an abject failure of the government to tackle powerful media interests", the National Union of Journalists has claimed.

The NUJ's Irish secretary Samus Dooley said the guidelines, published yesterday, did nothing to "break the stranglehold on media ownership by a few powerful groups and individuals".

He said he was disappointed communications minister Alex White did not consider the establishment of a commission on the future of the media in the Republic.

Mr Dooley said titles owned by Independent News and Media account for more than 40 per cent of all national newspaper sales, while three media groups own 23 of the Republic's 37 radio stations.

"We need an independent commission to examine all aspects of media ownership and control," he said.

"We need politicians to realise that media ownership and control is an issue of fundamental importance to democracy."

The guidelines came as billionaire businessman Denis OBrien was accused of wielding a Sword of Damocles over the media in the Republic.

The Irish government has appointed a former judge to investigate the running of the state-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) following a legal row involving Mr O'Brien, who controls Independent News and owns two national radio stations.

The Commission of Investigation will be led by retired High Court judge Daniel OKeeffe.

A court will also decide tomorrow if an injunction will be lifted, allowing RT to report on Mr OBriens financial dealings with IBRC, formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank.

RTs lawyers argued yesterday that the injunction had become pointless because all the key details are now in the public domain following comments made in the Dail under parliamentary privilege.

They claimed the media mogul was trying to hold a Sword of Damocles over journalists in the south.

Lawyers for both Mr OBrien and the IRBC opposed lifting the injunction.

Meanwhile, the Commission of Investigation into IBRC is to investigate claims made by Sinn Fin's Pearse Doherty in the Dil on Tuesday evening.

The Donegal TD claimed Mr OBrien had made three attempts to extend a 315 million loan agreement with liquidators. A fourth attempt was accepted after the 2013 expiry date amid the threat of legal action.

During a two-day debate on the inquiry, Mr Doherty also claimed that Mr OBrien and IRBC had struck a deal whereby the latter would would receive 92.02 per cent of all Digicel dividends in excess of $50 million as part of a loan repayment agreement.

IBRC's special liquidators have disputed the TDs claims, describing them as inaccurate and misleading.

However, the Republics finance minister, Michael Noonan, yesterday confirmed that issues raised by Mr Doherty would be covered by the commission.

Announcing the appointment of Mr Justice OKeeffe, Mr Noonan told TDs the body would have the power to investigate any transaction that gave rise to concerns.

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