Ofcom publishes report on measuring media plurality
19 June 2012
Ofcom has today published its report on measuring media plurality.
The report is for the Secretary of State, who in October 2011 asked Ofcom to consider how to measure media plurality and to report back by June 2012. An executive summary of the report is available here.
Media plurality helps to support a democratic society by ensuring citizens are informed by a diverse range of views and by preventing too much influence over political processes by one media owner or outlet. Ofcom considers that the scope of any plurality review should be limited to news and current affairs.
Ofcom has concluded that an effective framework for measuring media plurality is likely to be based, to a significant extent, on data and analysis. However, there are also areas where an important degree of judgement is required. The appropriate approach to exercising such judgement is ultimately a matter for Parliament.
The Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt asked Ofcom to answer five questions:
1. What are the options for measuring media plurality across platforms? What do you recommend is the best approach?
- The availability, consumption and impact of news media are all relevant measures of plurality. Consumption measures, such as volume, reach and how consumers multi-source news, are the most important.
- Other relevant contextual factors should also be considered, such as obligations which require television and radio news to be impartial.
- The relevant measures of plurality should be re-assessed during any review.
2. Could or should a framework for measuring plurality include websites and if so which ones?
- Online media should be included in a plurality review as online news sources are used by a significant and growing proportion of the UK population.
3. What could trigger a review of plurality in the absence of a merger, how might this be monitored and by whom?
- On balance, Ofcom believes a periodic review of plurality every 4 or 5 years is the best approach.
- Further consideration is needed as to whether the existing media merger regime should sit within a new proposed plurality regime or continue in parallel.
- There may be merit in a review triggered by the exit of a news organisation, but only if it avoids continuous review or too heavy a reliance on discretion.
4. Is it practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share?
- Absolute limits could take the form of a prohibition on market share or on specific transactions.
- A market share prohibition is simple to understand, but it is also inflexible. On balance, Ofcom does not believe a prohibition on market share is currently advisable.
- Instead, in the interests of flexibility, plurality concerns brought about by high market share should be addressed through a periodic plurality review.
- In terms of prohibitions on transactions, there is currently a prohibition which prevents an organisation with more than 20 per cent of national newspaper circulation from holding a share of 20 per cent or more in a Channel 3 licence or licensee. Ofcom considers that the case for retaining or removing this rule in the context of a new proposed plurality regime is a matter for Parliament.
- Any future review needs to consider what level of plurality is sufficient. This is challenging because the judgement is subjective.
- However, Ofcom believes the features of a plural news market include the presence of a diverse range of independent news voices; high reach and consumption of multiple news sources; low barriers to entry and competition to encourage innovation; economic sustainability, with no single organisation holding too large a market share.
- It may be possible to say what levels of the consumption measure indicate a potential plurality concern. These levels could be taken into consideration within a plurality review, without being regarded as absolute limits.
- Parliament may wish to provide further guidance on sufficiency and whether the current level of plurality is enough. Otherwise, the reviewing body will need to use its discretion in determining what constitutes a sufficient level of plurality.
5. Whether or how should a framework include the BBC?
- The BBC's leading position in TV, radio and online news means it should be included in any plurality review; but the BBC's position itself should not trigger a review.
- Ofcom recommends that the BBC Trust assesses the BBC's contribution to plurality, both internal and external, and considers a framework for measuring and evaluating this periodically.