Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Competition Authority Report.

Mary O'Rourke

Ceist:

2 Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment if he will give details of the people and organisations that he has met with through his publicly announced forum to discuss the Competition report. [88199/95]

Desmond J. O'Malley

Ceist:

27 Mr. O'Malley asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment if he will give details of the recent discussions he has had with the management of newspapers. [8100/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 27 together.

The interim report of the Competition Authority on its study of the newspaper industry has raised very important issues. The report deals with two matters, first, competition from UK newspapers in Ireland, and second, dominance in the industry in the light of the share acquisition and loan by Independent Newspapers in respect of the Irish Press Group.

In respect of competition from UK newspapers in Ireland, the Authority was of the opinion that there was no evidence to support claims that UK newspaper groups, particularly News International, had engaged in predatory pricing of newspapers within the State. In line with the Authority's recommendation on this issue, I do not propose to take further action at this stage with respect to UK newspapers in the Irish market.

The Competition Authority found that Independent Newspapers has a dominant position in the various newspaper markets within the State. The authority is also of the opinion that the acquisition by Independent Newspapers of a 24.9 per cent shareholding in the Irish Press, with the provision of loans amounting to IR£2.0 million to the Press, amounts to an abuse of a dominant position by Independent Newspapers plc. contrary to section 5 of the Competition Act, 1991. Furthermore, the Authority is of the opinion that the 24.9 per cent shareholding in, and IR£2.0 million loan to the Irish Press amounts to an agreement between undertakings which has, as its object or effect, the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition contrary to section 4 of the Competition Act, 1991.

The Authority has recommended that I, as Minister for Enterprise and Employment, initiate court action under section 6 of the Competition Act, 1991, in respect of abuse of a dominant position contrary to section 5 of the Act, and in respect of an anti-competitive agreement contrary to section 4 of the Act.

This recommendation raises very profound questions, not only about competition law and its enforcement, but also about the future shape of the Irish newspaper industry. In this light, I consider that it is very important for me go give the very fullest consideration to the matter so that I can make the most informed decision possible.

For this reason, I have indicated my wish to stimulate a genuine public debate about newspaper ownership and competition in the industry. I am already heartened that very many commentators have publicly expressed views on the issues raised. As part of this process, I have organised a Forum on the Future of the Newspaper Industry to be held in Dublin on 8 May. The main topics to be discussed at the forum are, first, newspapers in a democratic market economy. This discussion will review the plurality, diversity and freedom of expression and contribution to cultural development. In addition, this discusion will review what the Competition Authority said regarding ownership and the issue of dominance in the newspaper sector. The second topic is that of employment in the newspaper industry, Meeting the Competitive Challenge. I expect that this topic will review the FAS Sectoral Study on the Print and Paper Industry, an employers viewpoint, and trade union viewpoint.

I am very pleased that Dr. John Bowman, the distinguished broadcaster and historian, has agreed to chair the forum. I have invited a wide range of people to attend and participate in the forum, including newspaper proprietors, editors, journalists, trade union representatives, academics and those involved in the political and cultural sphere of activities.

The forum is additional to the series of meetings which I am holding with the newspaper owners and editors and the social partners. The purpose of the meetings is to give the major interests in the newspaper industry an opportunity of making their future plans and intentions known to me following the report of the Competition Authority. I am currently in the middle of this process and I expect it to be concluded within a week or so.

I have already met IBEC, ICTU and trade union representatives, and representatives of News International, the Sunday Business Post, the Sunday Tribune, the Cork Examiner and The Irish Times. I also have meetings scheduled with representatives of the Irish Press, the Irish Independent and the National Newspapers of Ireland. At the conclusion of this process, having carefully considered all aspects of the situation, I will make my decision as to the course of action I intend to take.

It is a little odd that I did not receive a full copy of the Competition Authority report. I do not know who is in charge of that matter in the Department but it would be sensible to let me have a copy of it and I would be glad if the Minister would arrange it. The Minister said that the forum proposed for next Monday will be composed of people from all walks of life, yet the notification I received this morning by letter states that no speakers have been arranged. The Minister kindly invited me to the forum and I thank him, but in the notification he states that the list of speakers will be arranged later. I presume that list is the one the Minister has now given. This day three weeks ago he set a deadline of four weeks to have all the activity on this matter concluded and there is now one week left. Is he considering formally extending the deadline for dealing with the Competition Authority report?

I do not intend to foreclose discussion in a premature way. I have arranged meetings with the various newspaper interests. Some of them expressed the need for a little more time before they meet me and I will accommodate their requests in that regard. The purpose of setting a deadline of four weeks was to indicate that I do not intend to let too much time pass without action. I intend to proceed with all possible haste, but that will be conditional on my being satisfied that all the relevant parties have had an opportunity to meet me. I envisage that the deadline may go beyond the four weeks, but I am determind to act on this report as quickly as possible, consistent with having proper information from all the parties involved.

The Minister did not say whether he would send me a copy of the report. I have met two of the major interests involved and meetings will take place between now and this day next week with all the major management trade unions and journalists' unions in the print industry. What is the Minister's view on the contention by Irish Press Newspapers that the group needs further loans immediately if it is to survive?

That is not an issue on which I intend to express a view in the House, certainly not in advance of meeting the Irish Press Group tomorrow. I will certainly furnish the Deputy with a copy of the full report as published.