What is media plurality? Media plurality is defined by Ofcom as:

  • Ensuring that there is diversity in the viewpoints that are available and consumed across and within media enterprises
  • Preventing any one media owner, or voice, having too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda

Ofcom has a duty to maintain sufficient plurality of providers of TV and radio services and to review media ownership rules periodically. The last review of media plurality took place in 2012 in the context of the Leveson Inquiry. Ofcom did not recommend any changes to the rules as part of that review.

Ofcom’s advice to government on a measurement framework for media plurality Ofcom first produced a measurement framework for media plurality in 2012. On 5 November, Ofcom published new advice to government on a measurement framework for media plurality which includes all forms of media, i.e. print, radio, TV and online (both retail and wholesale). The framework looks only at news and current affairs content. Ofcom advises that the use of intermediaries such as search engines and social media should also be measured when considering the consumption of news sources.

There are three key measurement features:

  • Availability: the number of different news sources available on each platform and across all media. This should be used to assess plurality at UK level and at the level of the UK nations for news about the nations.
  • Consumption: measuring the number of people using news sources and the frequency and/or time that they spend consuming it across all media platforms (including sector-specific consumption) and by owner. Again, this should be used to assess plurality at UK level and at the level of the UK nations for news about the nations. This would be assessed using consumer research.
  • Impact: personal importance and the impact and influence of news sources. This would again be based on consumer research regarding perceived impartiality, reliability, trust and influence.

Ofcom advises that contextual factors must also be taken into account when assessing plurality such as, for instance, the different regulatory environments for television, newspapers and websites. Other factors to be taken into account may include governance models, funding models, editorial control exercised by owners or senior executives, and how far organisations enable or promote a range of opinions, market trends and future developments.

The new measurement framework provides more detail on how Ofcom views the ‘personal importance’ metric. It makes it clear that perceived impartiality, reliability, trust and the extent to which news sources help consumers make up their mind about the news will be important in measuring impact. Ofcom has also removed the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (a measure of the size of organisations in relation to an industry and the competition among them) which had previously been used to measure market concentration relating to consumption.

What next? Ofcom is currently conducting its periodic review of the rules relating to media ownership and it expects to publish its recommendations by the end of this month. It is also completing a report on news consumption across television, radio and print online, due to be published later this year.