Ofcom updates on UK media plurality
November 17, 2021
By Colin Mann
UK media regulator Ofcom has set out the next steps in its work to ensure that the regulatory framework for media plurality in the UK remains fit for the modern news landscape. It has also published a report to the Secretary of State following its review of the current media ownership rules.
Media plurality supports democracy by ensuring that people can receive a wide range of viewpoints from a variety of different sources and that no one media owner has too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda. Ofcom has a range of duties, introduced by Parliament in 2003, to support media plurality in the UK.
According to Ofcom, the way that people access news and information has changed significantly since these duties were introduced. The influence of online news sources has grown substantially, and social media, search engines and news aggregators are increasingly acting as intermediaries between news content and the public.
Ofcom launched a programme of work in June 2021 to understand what these market changes might mean for media plurality, and to ensure that the current media ownership rules better reflect the supply and consumption of news today.
Taking account of responses to its call for evidence, Ofcom has identified three features of the modern UK media landscape that may present a risk to media plurality, but which are not captured under the existing regulatory framework:
- Online intermediaries and their algorithms control the prominence they give to different news sources and stories;
- The basis on which online intermediaries serve news via their algorithms is not sufficiently transparent; and
- People do not always critically engage with the accuracy and partiality of online news.
Ofcom will next build a detailed understanding of whether and how these issues present concerns for media plurality in the UK, and consider how they might be addressed. It will set out recommendations by summer 2022.
Following consultation, Ofcom has concluded that the media ownership rules set by Parliament continue, in part, to support its policy goal of ensuring that the media operates in the public interest.
It is therefore recommending that that some of those rules should be retained in their current form, but that others should be modified better to reflect the way people access and consume news today.
This includes a recommendation that the Secretary of State should broaden the scope of the Media Public Interest Test framework to cover concerns in mergers involving a broader range of “news creators”, beyond print newspapers and broadcasters.