Ownership rules ok? The need for a tougher UK media plurality regime
In his article for the Media @LSE blog on the UK’s media plurality regime, Justin Schlosberg calls for regular plurality reviews which address the role of algorithms in meeting plurality goals.
The current media ownership regulatory framework “needs not gentle tinkering but some major modifications if it is to adequately cater to diverse audiences and to support media content in the public interest,” Schlosberg writes, arguing that it is essential that Ofcom carries out plurality reviews every four years to address the dynamic changes in the market. In 2020, three companies controlled 90% of UK national newspaper readership, up from 71% in 2015. Local newspaper ownership is similarly concentrated.
With regards to online intermediaries, it is clear that they are not “neutral conduits” for users to find and consume news. From a plurality perspective, the question is to what extent do the platforms' “algorithms promote a plurality of news sources.”
“We need regular and meaningful plurality reviews that include behavioral or structural remedies ..., together with the regulatory will and power to issue digital intermediaries with specific orders in respect of their algorithm metrics, should their performance fall short of standards as elaborated in the relevant code of practice,” the article concludes, adding that Ofcom should be able to impose substantial fines for non-compliance.
This article is based on research that is part of the UK component of the Media Influence Matrix, set up to investigate the influence of shifts in policy, funding, and technology on contemporary journalism, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. It is due to report in Autumn 2021.
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