The media mergers group reported in June 2008 and made recommendations for improvement in the legal framework for considering media mergers. Although not recommended by this group, the previous Minister agreed in principle to allocating responsibility for consideration of the public interest in media mergers to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in June 2010, but this was not implemented.
On entering Government I reviewed the issue and agreed with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to incorporate the allocation of this responsibility to him into the Consumer and Competition Bill. I brought the Heads of the Bill to Government in July 2011 and received formal approval for the drafting of the legislation. This is now underway. I plan to publish the Bill later this year.
The legislation contains a number of important commitments from the Programme for Government which I am determined to progress. They include ensuring fair operation of markets by giving full effect to the merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority and introducing a legislative base for a code of practice in the grocery sector.
Discussions have taken place between officials in my Department and in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources whilst I have engaged with my colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the matter. Minister Rabbitte recently proposed extracting the media merger provisions of this Bill and progressing a stand-alone media mergers Bill. I have carefully considered the issue. I am satisfied that we should proceed with the approach which has been approved by Government. All of the elements of the Bill are important and it would not be desirable to downgrade their implementation. Best regulatory practice dictates one should have a consolidated approach to legislation; therefore I am in favour of a single all-encompassing Bill. I have Government's approval for this approach and, having spoken to the Attorney General seeking priority drafting, notwithstanding the pressure of legislative priorities across the whole of Government, I hope to publish the Bill later this year.
I should point out that there are robust provisions in existing legislation for protection of the public interest in media mergers. Under section 23 of the Competition Act 2002, I, as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, have the power to consider media mergers from a public interest perspective. The criteria set out in that Act include consideration of the strength and competitiveness of indigenous media business, the spread of ownership and control of media businesses in the State amongst individuals and corporations, the diversity of views reflected in the media and the market share of media businesses.