Media Ownership: Getting to the Heart of It
The Media Act introduced by the Hungarian government back in 2010 set limits on horizontal and cross-media ownership in an attempt to prevent concentration of ownership in the country. The market players seemed to comply with these legal provisions. They properly disclosed ownership as the law required them to do. According to the same act, the local media and competition watchdogs required media operators to submit ownership data to use in assessments that regulators carry out when they license media companies or check compliance with ownership rules.
At the end of the day, if one counted the share of media companies, almost all actors complied with the conditions in the law.
In the past few years, the media regulator in Hungary, a body under heavy political control, has given green light to a bevy of mergers and acquisitions that involved owners close to the government. They never published any supportive market analysis or assessments related to these deals. In contrast, deals involving media companies that had no connection with the government have been barred.
That has led to a situation where businesses close to the government of the prime minister Viktor Orbán secured control over big swathes of the media market. According to some sources, three quarters of the media are controlled by these people. Other sources indicated that 90% of the Hungarian news media market is in the hands of oligarchs close to the ruling party Fidesz. More than 500 print media titles are government-friendly today, according to research run by our center.
All that shows two things. One is that ownership limits do not guarantee pluralism. The second is that regulation can’t prevent propaganda or what has become to be known as “ideological concentration.”
Can research fix these problems?
The Media Ownership Tool, a project run by our center with cash from Google’s Digital News Initiative, aims to do just that. Developed by CMDS fellow Attila Bátorfy, this tool aims at a more nuanced analysis of the ownership market to really understand the reality behind a few numbers. It collects data on ownership, market revenue and profit shares as well as the location of the media (Budapest or regional media), the source of capital (Hungarian or foreign) and the political affiliation (left to right, close to government or independent).
For a comprehensive view of the ownership links in the media, this tool is built on four sets of elements, including company-related data, financial figures, audience data and information about the groups of interests around a certain media outlet. In this stage of the project, we will incorporate three elements (company, finances and groups of interests). Audience-related data will require more time and new methodology. A follow-up project will hopefully include audience numbers.
Slated to be released in June 2018, the Media Ownership Tool will be a simple, easily navigable and searchable, visually elegant overview of the Hungarian media market. The 100 largest players in the market, accounting for roughly 92% of the total media market in Hungary, are mapped in this project. The tool digs deep into their ownership back to the 1990s, allowing users to follow ownership patterns and changes for all these three decades. What is truly charming about the tool is that, although some maintenance will be needed, it will be automatically updatable.
This tool will have applicability for policymaking as well, Dragomir said. It will help policymakers and analysts get to the heart of media ownership to make informed decisions and change policies accordingly, he added.
The Media Ownership Tool feeds into a slew of other major initiatives mapping media ownership trends worldwide, including the Media Ownership Monitor of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the openMedia project of the openDemocracy. It will also feed ownership information into CMDS’s global Media Influence Matrix, a project run by CMDS as part of the Media Power Research Consortium.
Do you want to create a Media Ownership Tool for your country? Contact Marius Dragomir at DragomirM@spp.ceu.edu