Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Question 1: To ask the Minister for Communications; Energy and Natural Resources if he will outline his liaisons with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation regarding the media mergers aspect of the Consumer and Cormpetition Bill; his views on the fact that this Bill has been delayed several times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22130/12]
In July last year the Government approved the draft heads of a new consumer and competition Bill as submitted by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Part of that decision involved giving effect in legislation to the recommendations of the Report of the Advisory Group on Media Mergers and to transfer responsibility for public interest considerations relating to media mergers from the Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to my Department. The existing legislative provisions governing these issues date from 2002, and the advisory group recommended a thorough revision of these in 2008.
Primary responsibility for promulgating the consumer and competition Bill 2012 rests with my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. He and I discussed this issue following the formation of this Government, following on from a series of discussions between officials, and agreed the transfer of responsibility in respect of the media mergers to this Department.
The consumer and competition Bill 2012 is one of a large number of Government Bills currently being drafted by the Attorney General's office, and I gather that it is likely to be later in the year before a draft Bill is ready to be published and brought before the Oireachtas. I would like to point out that the Bill has not been delayed a number of times; the entirety of the delay thus far has been due to the amount of legislation in train and the particular priority that has had to be given to certain legislation in the context of the commitments made to the troika.
The critical role of the media in our democracy, and the potentially harmful effects of an over concentration of media ownership, means this issue is a vitally important one. The Government remains committed to implementing a set of robust measures that allow for a transparent and objective assessment of the public good in media mergers cases, and to do so as quickly as possible. Officials from my Department are actively engaged in the drafting process, in consultation with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, with the objective of ensuring that my primary concerns around the preservation of plurality and diversity in media will be reflected in the draft Bill.
The Minister states in his reply that the Bill has not been delayed but on 14 September 2011 it was on the B list with a publication date of early 2012, on 11 January 2012 it was on the B list with a publication date of mid-2012 and on 17 April it was still on the B list with a publication date of late 2012. It is moving on but events outside this House are beginning to catch up with it. The functions are to be transferred to the Minister's Department. When will the Minister assume full responsibility for that element of it? Is there scope or a need for separate legislation or will it still come under the umbrella of the competition and consumer Bill on media mergers?
As the Deputy knows, broadcasting is currently the responsibility of this Department. After the Bill to which he refers is enacted, this Department will be also responsible for print media. In terms of how early that is likely to happen, it has to await the enactment of the major revision of competition law that is in the new competition and consumer Bill. It is a major Bill. The Deputy is correct. It has been dislocated, as have some other Bills, primarily because of the pressures on us from the troika to give priority to other pieces of legislation. I agree with the Deputy that this is an important Bill. Once the Bill is enacted, it is the responsibility of this Department and has no interaction with the other Department.