Advanced Television

Ofcom to assess the measurement of media plurality

October 21, 2011

By Colin Mann

UK comms regulator Ofcom has invited comments on measuring media plurality, following a request to consider this area by the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt.

At the end of last year, in its report on the public interest test on the proposed acquisition of British Sky Broadcasting Group by News Corporation, Ofcom suggested that possible reform of the current framework around plurality may be required.

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, has now written to Ofcom and asked the watchdogs to assess how practical it would be to set limits on media ownership to protect plurality. He also asked Ofcom to recommend a framework for measuring plurality across different media.

Parliament has seen it as important to safeguard plurality because of an organisation’s ability to influence opinions and set the political agenda if it has too much control of the media. Ofcom’s findings will be provided to the Secretary of State and given as evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press by June 2012.

Currently, there is a range of rules in place to safeguard plurality. These include the media public interest test, which can be triggered on the grounds of plurality when there is a merger between media enterprises. Other rules include restrictions on national cross-media ownership. Ofcom is inviting comments on the questions asked by the Secretary of State, including:

  • What are the options for measuring media plurality across platforms? What do you recommend is the best approach?
  • Is it practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share?
  • What could trigger a review of plurality in the absence of a merger, how might this be monitored and by whom?\
  • Could or should a framework for measuring levels of plurality include websites and if so which ones?
  • Whether or how it should include the BBC?

Ofcom has started work to respond to these questions and is providing interested parties with the opportunity to comment. Ofcom invites written submissions by 17 November 2011.

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