Pluralism And Media Ownership Control

The risk domain Pluralism of media ownership and control refers to the existence of sufficient media outlets and platforms that are owned, or controlled, by a plurality of independent and autonomous actors. It encompasses a plurality of actors at the level of media production, media supply and media distribution (i.e., variety in media sources, outlets, suppliers and distribution platforms)(MPM2009). In this context, this risk domain includes indicators covering the risk of High ownership concentration in the media (O1), High concentration of cross-media ownership (O2), and Lack of transparency in ownership structures (O3).

The risk High ownership concentration in media (O1) includes legal and economic indicators that assess the high, medium or low risk that a national media landscape is highly concentrated across different media outlets. Media ownership concentration is commonly considered one of the key factors that determine a threat to media pluralism. The more concentrated the market is, the more exposed it is to a lack of variety in content availability in respect of the plurality of the political, cultural and societal diversities that characterise each country.

Among the legal indicators, the 12 Regulatory safeguards against high concentration of ownership and/or control in media merges five previous indicators (i.e. indicators included in the MPM2009 as separate ones) that assess media concentration in different media. The rationale behind this merger is the current process of convergence of the different types of media. It evaluates the existence and implementation of regulatory safeguards on media ownership concentration for TV, newspapers, radio and ISPs and assesses the risk to the overall media system accordingly. The score for this indicator is three countries low risk, five medium, and one high (Hungary).

The economic indicators in the ownership domain under the same risk are 21, 22 and 23. Indicator 21 assessing the Media ownership concentration controls the concentration of the market across the 4 main media outlets: TV, Newspapers, Radio, and ISPs. 4 different variables control the media concentration in each of these media outlets. The methodology used is the Top 4 method, which is based on market shares, namely, the share of the total revenue in a market for each owner of the total market for each media platform. The Top 4 is obtained by summing the market shares of the 4 major owners in the market. In a case where the 4 major owners (Top 4) have a market share below 25%, then there is low risk. In contrast, if this percentage is between 25% and 49%, then this indicator scores a medium risk. Finally, we register a high risk when the 4 major owners have a market share above 50%. As a result, and due to the final score that is based on this scoring strategy, all countries scored a high risk in media ownership concentration, which is indicative of the high concentration that characterises the EU media markets.

Nonetheless, this indicator, as well as indicator 22, on media audience and readership concentration (see below), must be interpreted in the light of the size and wealth of each country and of the resources of the market itself. This is an indication that comes also from the MPM2009, which provides provisional coefficients that lower the score (and the risk) for the economic indicators that assess ownership concentration in specific cases. This is based on the understanding that a small country and therefore, with a small media market and/or a low GDP, in fact, is more likely to develop a concentrated market, as the existence of many operators cannot be sustainable and this creates fragmentation rather than plurality. The provisional MPM2009 coefficients however, create rather broad groups and therefore, do not introduce the necessary distinctive power. For example, a coefficient of 0.75 is introduced if the country’s population is less than 20 million people, which puts countries like Malta (less than 0.5 million), Netherlands (just below 17 million) and Romania (just below 20 million) under the same conditions. The same applies to the coefficient related to the low GDP. In order to reflect the necessity of coefficients with stronger discriminating power, the MPM2015 will introduce coefficients related to the market size and resourcefulness that will have a higher number of steps. Consequently, the MPM2015 will be able to better reflect the country specificities. These coefficients will be applied to all relevant indicators.

Indicator 22 concerning the Media audience and readership concentration assesses the audience share per Top 4 owners competing in the media market in 4 different media outlets, including TV, newspapers, radio and ISPs. The share is based on the standard or most accepted audience/readership/subscription measurement system that is available in the country. Similarly to the previous indicator, the Top 4 are obtained by summing the audience/readership/subscription shares of the 4 major owners in the market. By using a similar rationale to that of the previous indicator, a country scores low risk when the 4 major owners (Top 4) have an audience share below 25%. If this value falls between 25% and 49% this indicator instead scores a medium risk. Finally, high risk is scored in a case where the 4 major owners have an audience share that is above 50%. As a result, 7 of 9 countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, the UK) scored a high risk; the two remaining countries scored one medium, and one low risk. These results again should be read as non-conclusive as graded coefficients reflecting the size and viability of the markets have not been applied.

Indicators 13 and 23 cover the risk High concentration of cross-media ownership (O2). In the light of media convergence, in the simplification process, the legal indicator 13 on Regulatory safeguards against a high degree of cross-ownership between television and other media merges two indicators that the MPM2009 assessed as having a high-degree of cross ownership in media between television (according to its broad definition) and other media. The scores for this indicator are that 4 countries have low risk, and five medium risk. Medium risk applies to Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Italy. A second level of investigation would be useful in these cases in order to better understand the nature of the medium risk.

The economic indicator 23 Number of sectors in which top 8 firms/owners are active instead assesses the cross-ownership concentration in the different sectors of the national media industry, including television, newspapers, radio and any internet service providers. This indicator is assessed by using the Top 8 concentration measure. Similarly to the previous indicator, the Top 8 measure is obtained by summing the market shares of the 8 major owners in the different sectors of the media market. If the result obtained is below 50%, then we are in a low risk case. If this instead falls between 50% and 70%, the country scores a medium risk. Finally, a high risk is scored when the 8 major owners have a market share that is above 70%. As a result, almost all of the countries have scored high risk in cross-ownership concentration, including (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, the UK). Only two countries reported a medium risk. This indicator therefore shows a generally high risk of cross-ownership concentration across the countries monitored.

The risk of Lack of transparency in media ownership (O3) is evaluated by indicator 14 Regulatory safeguards for the transparency of ownership and/or control. The transparency of the media ownership structures is fundamental for healthy media and democratic systems. This indicator merges two fundamental elements of regulation on media ownership transparency. Transparency of ownership and/or control is seen both towards the public and towards the relevant authorities. This indicator shows a low risk in three countries, medium in five, and is high in Denmark, as, according to the data collected, this country has no regulatory safeguards on media transparency. This is one of the cases where the MPM needs a second-step approach in order to assess the effectiveness of the given risk that results from a different media system, culture and legal framework. An interesting indication of the media ownership transparency is indeed the accessibility of the data necessary for this very Monitor.