Geographical Pluralism In the Media

Indicators included in the risk domain Geographical pluralism in the media aim to monitor the existence of the eventual unequal representation of local and regional communities in the media. The indicators look at potential forms of inequalities from both a spatial and social perspective.

Legal indicators controlling the Geographical pluralism in the media include 3 indicators: Regulatory safeguards and policies for regional and local media, 10 Regulatory safeguards for locally oriented and locally produced content on PSM channels and services and 11 Regulatory safeguards for universal coverage of the media.

The risk Insufficient system of regional and local media (G1) is assessed by indicator 9 Regulatory safeguards and policies for regional and local mediamonitoring whether there is risk to fair and diverse representation and the expression of local and regional communities in the media (falling into the category of external pluralism). According to the results that emerged from the pilot-test implementation, the risk to media pluralism related to representation of local and regional communities is low only in three of the nine countries, medium in two, and high in four (Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece).

Indicator 10 Regulatory safeguards for locally oriented and locally produced news on PSM channels and services assesses the risk relative to the Insufficient representation of regional and local communities in news (G2), namely, controlling regulatory safeguards for internal pluralism from a geographical perspective. Due to their very nature and mission, PSM will guarantee the involvement of regional and local communities in news production. With regard to this indicator, some of the local correspondents shared some concerns about the obligations and duties that are related to the mission of PSM and these were about potentially different national interpretations (this is something that, as will be seen below, emerged with other indicators). Looking at the outcome of the 2014 pilot test implementation with regard to the country sample, the risk for a violation of this safeguard is, in general, medium-high: three countries scored low risk, two medium, and four high (Belgium, Greece, Hungary, the UK). The relation of indicators 9 and 10 as covering internal and external pluralism will be analysed as part of the MPM2015 fine-tuning.

Finally, indicator 11 Regulatory safeguards for universal coverage of the media control the risk of Insufficient access to media and distribution systems due to geographic factors (G3). This is the result of a merging of three former indicators from the MPM2009, and it aims to assess, in the logic of progressive convergence, the universal coverage of essential services. In particular, it looks at three levels of media coverage, namely PSM services, the distribution of newspapers in remote and/or rural areas, and broadband networks in the same areas. In 4 of 9 of the selected countries, the risk for a threat to such a safeguard resulted as low, while in the remaining five there seems to be either a medium (two) or high risk (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary).

The one socio-political indicator in this risk domain is indicator 28 Guarantees for universal coverage of PSM and broadband networks regarding geographical coverage (risk Insufficient access to media and distribution systems due to geographical factors – G3). This indicator includes two variables that respectively measure the coverage of PSM and broadband. These two particular platforms are singled out, as there is a state responsibility to construct and maintain such networks and to provide coverage for the whole population. The measurement of this indicator has been rather clear and there were no significant challenges. As a whole, there are three countries with a low risk, five countries in which there is medium risk, and one high (Greece[1]). This result mainly demonstrates the differences in the stages of the development of the broadband networks in different countries. A specific case here is Greece – due to the transitional stage of the reform of the PSM in that country, there is no effective coverage of the population with fully functioning PSM. This issue remains open, as further and quick developments are expected in this area.

The list of economic indicators that assess the risk domains in the context of Geographical pluralism in the media includes 2 indicators. The risk domain concerning High centralisation of the national media system (G4) includes indicators that assess the estimated reach and audience share of regional and local media. The high risk is determined in cases where national media do not equally reach population over the national territory. This risk is assessed with indicator 26 monitoring the Centralisation of the national media system. This indicator aims to denote the probability of a threat arising to the external diversity of a media system that is perceived as being high, and the growing centralisation of a media system on a national scale; and the high and growing concentration of local and regional media ownership. The score for this indicator is assigned by aggregating results generated from the following tests: 1) The relative strength of local/regional media (daily newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, news websites) in a particular media system; 2) The combined ownership of regional/local media and national media outlets by the same company; 3) The proportion of regional and local television and radio broadcast channels to national broadcast channels; 4) The proportion of regional and local newspapers to national newspapers. Although six of nine of the countries have highlighted a low risk concerning their national centralisation of media systems, one, medium, and Belgium and Estonia reported high risk. Some countries experienced a lack of the data required to fill this indicator and therefore, the results are inconclusive.

The new risk concerning the Insufficient quality of the digital infrastructure (G5) is assessed with indicator 24, which monitors the Availability and quality of broadband. The scoring assessing this indicator differs significantly across countries. Three countries, Greece, Hungary and Italy, have scored high risk, while two countries scored medium risk, and a final group of four have instead scored a low risk. If the number of subscribers to landline, as well as mobile, broadband is indicative of the level of the national Digital Divide, the measures relating to the speed of the broadband instead measures the quality of the internet infrastructure. Since we should expect that high speed increases the usability of online content, including video-streaming, in countries with a broadband speed below the EU average (such as Greece, Hungary, Italy), the use of the internet for online content consumption might be impeded by the limited bandwidth. At the same time, a low available speed is likely to be a serious obstacle for bottom up forms of media production.

The application of the risk domain on Geographical pluralism demonstrated the need for a revision of the approach to the issue as a whole. The MPM2015 will consider the introduction of coefficients to some indicators in this domain, in order to reflect the considerable variations in the geographic diversity of the EU Member States. Such a revision will aim at the improvement of the validity and cross-country comparability of the indicator scores. The relation of this risk domain with the risk domain on Cultural pluralism will also be considered.

[1] The country correspondents provided the elaborated data, but the CMPF team assigned the indicator score.