New study assesses media pluralism and diversity online in Europe, concomitant with the publication of the EMFA proposal

16 September 2022 — Media pluralism requires as much protection in the digital environment as in the traditional offline media environment, warns the new Study on Media Plurality and Diversity Online published today by the European Commission.

The Study, financed with a tender by the European Commission in 2021, gathered four academic partners with a solid track record of scientific research on media pluralism: the Centre for Information Technology and Intellectual Property of KU Leuven, the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (Studies in Media, Innovation and Technology), under the leadership of the Centre of Media Pluralism and Media Freedom of the European University Institute.

According to the authors, media pluralism is closely intertwined not only with the fulfilment of fundamental rights and the functioning of democratic societies, but also with healthy and resilient economies across the EU and the functioning of its internal market.

The Study begins by highlighting the new definition of media used for the research, which distinguishes media actors from other actors in the media ecosystem which contribute to the functioning or accessing of media, but do not or should not exercise editorial control and are thus not to be considered media.

In addition, the Study fulfilled two main objectives. In the first part, the authors aim to assess the extent to which European media are able to cater for pluralistic opinions and viewpoints online. To do so, they mapped the existing measures regulating the prominence and discoverability of content online and assessed their effectiveness; based on the research results, they then propose a series of policy options and recommendations.

The second part of the study focuses on market plurality and concentration of economic resources, with the aim of understanding the existence and effectiveness of measures regarding, for example, ownership transparency, capital controls, audience and market measurement, and media mergers in the EU Member States. Based on the extensive mapping of measures concerning media concentration and the assessment of their effectiveness, the Study showed that online media remain outside of the scope of media concentration rules. 

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that research documents the fragmentation of the regulation across EU Member States’ media markets,” said Dr Heritiana Ranaivoson of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. “This raises questions regarding the effectiveness of such regulation in a context where media services are increasingly crossing borders”, he said.

In addition, the researchers carried out an assessment of the advertising-based business model for media in the digital era, and a scrutiny of alternative business models for journalism. “This study breaks new ground in analysing the impact of the current distribution of advertising revenues as well as the ability to harness consumer data on media plurality,” said Dr Kristina Irion of the Institute for Information Law (IViR). “Our study confirms that the economic viability of the print and news media is disrupted, whereas online platforms could capture most of the revenues from digital ads,” she noted.

Finally, the Study presents an overview and evaluation of the existing methodologies employed for measuring media plurality, ranging from the scope of measuring transparency, media power and market sustainability, to the possibility of accessing transparent and comparable data and eventually highlighting the scarcity and fragmentation of data across the EU.

To produce the analysis and recommendations of the Study, the research team analysed both qualitative and quantitative data. The quantitative data focused on advertising spending in the EU Member States and the UK, and on indicators of media sustainability, complemented by a comprehensive mapping of the legislative framework supporting discoverability and transparency of media ownership. The qualitative data consisted of interviews with relevant stakeholders and industry representatives, as well as the evaluation of evidence collected during two stakeholder consultations.

“The Study lays the groundwork for future research and policy action on media pluralism that goes beyond the Digital Package and even the European Media Freedom Act,” said Pier Luigi Parcu, Director of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom.

“Our objective was to provide high-quality scientific research that can contribute to sound, evidence-based policymaking,” said prof Parcu. “For this reason, we are pleased and honoured that our Media Pluralism Monitor has become the benchmark for assessing the status of media pluralism in Europe. From providing research data to this Study and informing the annual Rule of Law Report and the European Media Freedom Act, the Media Pluralism Monitor has proved its value as a source of independent, first-rate research.”

The Study on Media Plurality and Diversity Online is available on the EU’s publication office website.

For any inquiry, please contact Giulia Giannasi, Communications Officer.