When the Government published its Connectivity, Content and Consumers strategy paper it also launched a consultation on media plurality. University of Glasgow’s Philip Schlesinger, who chairs Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Scotland, shares the Committee’s response arguing that Scotland’s needs have been ignored.
Fourteen years on from devolution, the consultation’s failure to explicitly address the distinct needs of the diverse nations of the UK is an astonishing lapse.
We agree that online media need to be considered as part of a new measurement framework, given that there is increasing traffic to access news via news websites or news apps. Traditional lines have blurred and online is central to news and current affairs consumption and will ever more be so.
Journalism is still fundamental
News, analysis, commentary, current affairs remain the core of public discourse and while there should be sensitivity to changing media forms and formats, ACS advocates an approach that will capture most of what is conventionally at any time regarded as news and journalism. ACS is very alert to the prospect of rapid change in a highly dynamic environment, in which younger demographic groups especially are consuming media in distinctive ways. The question of plurality needs to be regularly reviewed every five years.
Ownership and voice
The best approach is to focus on levels of diversity of ownership and control of the main owners of platforms through which media content is consumed. A relevant measure is owners’ share of voice – as measured both by the time and the money spent by consumers – on the main delivery platforms for media: television, radio, newspapers and the internet.
Scotland’s distinctive media market
The media market in Scotland should be considered as quite distinct within the UK. UK-wide media are available to Scottish consumers (with variants for TV opt-outs and press editions). There is also a distinctive Scottish media landscape in respect of all the media noted above. Any plurality test needs to be applied separately to media circulating in Scotland specifically for Scottish audiences as well as to UK media.
The BBC (BBC Scotland) should be included for the purposes of assessing the total extent of the radio, television and online markets in Scotland. ACS is especially concerned with the adequacy of the BBC’s performance in serving the Scottish nation, whether at UK network or BBC Scotland levels in the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014.
A focus on the BBC may be used to distract attention from concentrations of private ownership in the media market place and ACS does not wish the review to be conducted in this spirit.
The Scottish public has a dual relationship to news. It consumes news that is specifically Scottish and that is relevant to the conduct of the Scottish political institutions and the Scottish public domain more widely. The Scottish public also consumes news that has a wider UK focus and that is relevant to Scots as citizens of the UK. Market share in news provision at both of these political levels needs attention to ensure at least minimal levels of diversity.
It is also important that Scotland be adequately represented within the UK, as should be the case with all the other nations and regions within the British state.
This post originally appeared on the Advice to Ofcom blog on 8 November 2013 and is re-posted with permission and thanks. The 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.