Policy Analysis: 20% Cap on National Media Ownership


By Senior Campaign Agent Sophie Savage

At TalkPolitics we believe a diverse media is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. For the survival of media plurality in the U.K. we want to see policy that creates a 20% cap on national media ownership – ending the growing trend of media monopolies.

Policy Now Vs. Suggested Policy

Currently, there is no cap on national media ownership in the UK. This has allowed the UK media’s plurality to be decimated by media conglomerates, with the only cap in place at present being the National Cross-Media Ownership rule. This rule ‘prohibits a newspaper operator with a market share of 20% or more of newspaper circulation from holding a Channel 3 licence or a stake in a Channel 3 licensee that is greater than 20%’, as stated by Ofcom in their 2015 media ownership report. The problem with this being the only cap in play is that it only addresses cross-media national media ownership and does not consider the risk to media plurality presented by a dominant owner in a singular media industry.

This is cause for great concern, especially regarding the newspaper industry. More than 1 in 2 adults read print newspapers every month, according to NRS data – a fact that makes the continued influence of print on our thoughts and political views undeniable. In 2015, it was found that only three publishers control more than 70% of national newspapers in circulation. Two of these with a market share of over 20% each. Policy at the minute, or lack thereof, allows for this domination of media. We want to cap national media ownership at 20% for owners – preventing this lack of media diversity and allowing room in the market for more voices. Our suggested policy is not about government regulation and control of the media; it is about the protection of public interest.

 How Would It Work?

The 20% cap would be introduced as an amendment to the Communications Act 2003. It would stipulate that a firm could not own more than 20% of market shares in any media form: radio, television and print and online newspapers. This would simply mean than any a firm would have to keep their share of national media below 20%. The key to this suggested policy is its clarity. It is a clear numerical cut-off point, a quantitative assessment rather than a qualitative one, so no room is left for ambiguity.

Why is the Cap Important?

Media plurality is vital to a substantive democracy. This pertains to having a press which is full of diverse voices and perspectives, allowing for the media to reflect the range of opinions in a nation. If this is not the case then the political consequences are undeniable. A wide range of political opinions in media is vital, as it allows for different views to oppose one another. This then allows the public to evaluate all the views around a political issue and come to their own opinion. This scenario, where media is pluralistic, is conducive to democratic practices.

The alternative to this is a media that is subject to undue commercial influence. In the context of this analysis, this can be seen as a high level of ownership over a media industry. This allows for a commercial entity to have a high level of control over the opinions and views that are available to the public through the media, as more ownership translates to a bigger platform to promote the interests of the owner. In turn, this allows for a high level of commercial influence over politics and politicians; if a political party, for example, campaigns for something against the owner’s interests, then they can use their influence to sway the public against the party. This demonstrates the potential for unaccountable and unelected control over the political sphere. This then makes the media a place promoting commercial interests over public interests.

Therefore, a cap, to prevent mass-ownership and subsequent harm to public interest, is essential for democracy to be upheld.

Support of Caps

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