Due to their potential influence, broadcast media have traditionally been subject to detailed and rigorous regulation during election periods. This was to ensure the effectiveness of the protection of the pluralism of all “political representatives” participating in the political-institutional debate and, therefore, requiring access to the media in order to inform the public of their positions. In fact, almost all countries have specific regulations regarding the electoral campaign aimed at traditional broadcasters. At the same time, some NRAs have the role of drafting the rules for the electoral campaigns.
Specific measures for public service media and specific genres
Most countries have additional measures for internal plurality applied to public service broadcasters (both general and election period specific) as can be seen in the graph below. These findings, and additional indicators explored in the report, reveal the importance of the role PSBs play in earning the public’s trust in news and in acting as a common reference for public discourse. In half of the jurisdictions covered by the report, existing measures of media plurality only apply to specific genres of programmes, mainly news, political, and current affairs programmes as specific genres, as well as programmes broadcast by public service media.
The following general trends in the changing media landscape have been observed in the report:
the internet reduces barriers to entry into the market for news, leading to an abundance of news services available to citizens online;
most people accessing news online do so indirectly instead of going through news websites or applications;
the news is increasingly viewed on smartphones in the form of ‘news feeds’;
content discovery online is fragmented;
in the absence of editorial curation, the news is now sorted into ‘news feeds’ by a combination of algorithms and personalisation by users;
for most users of social media, the route of content discovery is guided by endorsements and recommendations by friends, with news items discovered in this way less likely to be challenged;
news content which particularly resonates with members of a social network can go viral, intensifying its effect.
A part of the report also focuses on the phenomenon of disinformation. Where online consumption of news occurs in a largely unregulated space, this could potentially risk undermining the policy objective of internal plurality as an aid to democratic public discourse. It seems that the growing importance of the phenomenon of disinformation is undeniable. Although current concerns stem mostly from the specific ways that the internet and new technologies profoundly affect the dissemination of information, disinformation also exists in the linear and traditional world of media. The approach to intervention in this field is a sensitive topic, especially considering the rights and principles at stake (in particular the freedom of expression and the freedom of information).
In a word, the responses of NRAs on disinformation convey that:
NRAs have not identified radical changes that relate to disinformation but that the regulators and the public are fully aware of this phenomenon;
NRAs have recently been expanding research in this field;
Disinformation can have important consequences on political debate and on decision-making processes;
Most countries have no measures in place tackling the issue of disinformation per se, and those that do almost never employ legislative measures;
The vast majority of NRAs consider that there is not enough evidence to assess the need for regulatory intervention in this field. However, the number of proposals to tackle the problem of disinformation is growing;
The vast majority of member states and NRAs favour self-regulation to address this issue; More and more actors (states, NRAs, market players) are working to address this phenomenon. There is recognition that achieving plurality depends on series of measures.
There are some published and other planned initiatives at the national, European and international level.
The cross-border dimensions of internal plurality were also examined. Cross-border cases involving traditional (audiovisual) media and media plurality are rare and, when they arise, cooperation between NRAs can offer solutions. A question has also been raised regarding the possible challenges posed by new services (Video Sharing Platforms/social media) in the context of internal plurality. Cooperation between NRAs is strong, but most NRAs believe that more would be beneficial and stressed the added value of ERGA. Most see ERGA as a medium for the exchange of information and best practices (also as a discussion forum on the matter). Some regulators believe that ERGA should play a role in cross-border issues, and potentially act as a voice for regulators in discussions with global players over new services.
This report should provide a unique NRA perspective on the discussed topics that had previously been missing and will hopefully contribute to debates about the broader question of media plurality in society. True, the internal plurality is just a small part of the whole complex issue. But it is also the one most underexplored so far, and one that deals with topics closest to those the current so-called information crisis is about.
In2019 ERGA will, therefore, continue exploring these topics, attempting to answer some of the questions raised in this report – with the problem of disinformation standing out most prominently, while also focusing on the regulatory aspects of external media plurality.