Jacopo GenoveseFollowing recommendations made by Leveson on media pluralism, the Government has launched a consultation that seeks views on a new measurement framework for media ownership and plurality, which closes on 22 October. In this post, LSE Alumnus Jacopo Genovese argues that the consultation does not go far enough in its scope, which leaves an undesired degree of regulatory uncertainty in the market.

The long and winding road of the Communications Review in the UK took an interesting turn on 30 July, when the DCMS published its strategy paper: “Connectivity, Content and Consumers”. As has been pointed out, the strategy did not touch on the controversial issue of media pluralism, but was instead accompanied by a consultation on the subject of “Media Ownership and Plurality”, which closes on 22 October.

Media Plurality, or as it is known in the US, Media Diversity, is an aspect of media policy that has received a lot of attention in the last decade from researchers, who have looked for the way to best define and measure the level of choice and range of opinion available in media markets.  Philip Napoli  deconstructed the “diversity principle” in a prominent paper back in 1999. Napoli broadly identifies three dimensions of diversity: source, content and exposure[A1] , depending on whether one looks at pluralism of suppliers, pluralism in the content that the actors produce and supply, or pluralism in the sources that audiences actually consume and are exposed to.

Many attempts have been made to create a sound measure of plurality/diversity over the years, each one of them reflecting different emphasis on any of those dimensions identified by Napoli. Some noteworthy examples include the Media Pluralism Monitor, which was adopted by the European Commission but not yet implemented at policy level; the proposed reform of the public interest test by the Media Reform Coalition; the LSE Media Policy Project’s seventh Policy Brief on Media Plurality and Media Power; and many more.

Lord Justice Leveson was asked to consider pluralism and provide recommendations. These form the basis of the consultation issued by the DCMS. The consultation seeks views on five main topics:

  1. The types of media that a new measurement framework should include;
  2. The genres (news, current affairs, entertainment, etc…) that it should cover;
  3. The types of organisations and services to which it should apply;
  4. The role of the BBC in the measurement framework;
  5. The audiences with which it should be concerned.

Much will depend on how the framework for measurement – the topic of this consultation – fits in to wider media policy reforms, in particular:

First, as noted by Des Freedman, whereas it is the Government’s intention to come up with a better measurement framework, the consultation paper never mentions any remedy or regulatory strategy to promote pluralism in the media (in Dr Freedman’s words, “measuring is a substitute for action”).

Second, the consultation paper seems to ignore the principle of independence, and suggests that the Secretary of State should remain responsible for public interest decisions on the matter of media mergers. This position seems to overlook a few things: it ignores the deep concern of public opinion in relation to the NewsCorp/BSkyB proposed merger; it ignores the widely accepted principle that media regulators should be independent from government; and whilst this was recommended by Leveson himself, it ignores the broader attempt made by the Leveson Inquiry to disentangle the relationship between politicians and the media; and it ignores the concern expressed on the matter of independence by the European Commission in a recent consultation on the AVMSD.

The issue of media pluralism is a very important one, in the UK as much as in Europe, it needs to be addressed now and it needs to take into account the increasingly converging nature of media markets. If the Government is serious about its purposes, it should start considering alternatives to the current system that go beyond a mere measurement of plurality in the media market. This consultation provides a good opportunity for people to remind the Government what is wrong with the current regulatory framework, even beyond the scope delimited by the questions asked in the consultation paper.

 [A1]Napoli, P. M. (1999). Deconstructing the diversity principle, Journal of Communication (Vol. 49, pp. 7-34): Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

This article gives the views of the author, and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics.