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Papers buyout won't affect independence, maintains INM chief

By Kevin Doyle

The editorial independence of seven regional newspapers in the Republic will be protected if they are bought by Belfast Telegraph owner Independent News and Media (INM), an Irish parliamentary committee has heard.

Robert Pitt, the chief executive of INM, gave a guarantee to the Oireachtas committee that existing editors at the Celtic Media titles will be retained along with all their journalists and production staff.

Celtic Media, which includes titles such as The Connaught Telegraph in Co Mayo, the Anglo Celt in Co Cavan and the Meath Chronicle, employs 98 workers, but according to chief executive Frank Mulrennan it is facing serious challenges to survive.

The sale, worth around €4m (£3.4m), was approved by the Republic's Competition and Consumer Protection Commission last November, but the Republic's Communications Minister, Denis Naughten, sought a review by watchdog the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, INM publishes the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life.

Some committee members expressed concern about a potential reduction in media plurality if the merger is allowed to go ahead, but Mr Pitt said he was "quite categorical" that the "editorial function in INM stands alone".

"Our regional editors stand completely independent with those titles," he added.

Mr Pitt told the committee that an independent free press was "a cornerstone of democracy", but said news organisations must remain commercially viable.

"As a result, consolidation and collaboration have become commonplace in the global newspaper industry," he explained, adding that INM has entered distribution agreements with the Irish Times.

The National Union of Journalists has voiced opposition to the plan.

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