Ofcom advises regular media plurality checks but rejects market share prohibition

Editor ©RapidTVNews | 20-06-2012

As the Leveson Inquiry reveals malpractice among the UK media, broadcast regulator Ofcom is recommending that the state of media ownership should be assessed around once every four years but rejects the prospect of market share prohibition.
Under fire Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State at the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, had asked Ofcom in October 2011 to consider how to measure media plurality and to report back by June 2012. In its report, Ofcom has proposed an effective framework for measuring media plurality be based, to a significant extent, on data and analysis.

Ofcom believes the features of a plural news market include the presence of a diverse range of independent news voices; high reach and consumption of multiple news sources; low barriers to entry and competition to encourage innovation; economic sustainability, with no single organisation holding too large a market share.
It said that on balance, a periodic review of plurality every 4 or 5 years is the best approach with further consideration needed as to whether the existing media merger regime should sit within a new proposed plurality regime or continue in parallel. Ofcom added that online media should be included in a plurality review as online news sources are used by a significant and growing proportion of the UK population.
Even though many voices have called for ownership limits following the News International phone hacking scandal, Ofcom rejects the notion of share prohibition as being “inflexible”. It notes that in terms of prohibitions on transactions, there is currently a prohibition which prevents an organisation with more than a fifth of national newspaper circulation from holding a similar share or more in a Channel 3 licence or licensee. Ofcom considers that the case for retaining or removing this rule in the context of a new proposed plurality regime is a matter for the UK Parliament.
Interestingly, and potentially problematic for the new BBC director general, especially if it is as expected Ofcom MD Ed Richards, Ofcom says that the BBC’s leading position in TV, radio and online news means it should be included in any plurality review. It does however caveat this with the notion that the BBC’s position itself should not trigger a review. Insteas Ofcom recommends that the BBC Trust assesses the BBC’s contribution to plurality, both internal and external, and considers a framework for measuring and evaluating this periodically.