The Media Reform Coalition has published a new report on media ownership and plurality laws from across the world – in the belief that Britain has something to learn from them.
The report, titled ‘The Elephant Next Door: a survey of international media ownership regulations’, summarises the broad international support that exists for plurality laws, and then examines regulations from across the world on national, local, foreign and cross-media holdings.
In Britain, ownership is the elephant in the room whenever media regulation is discussed. However, many other countries do impose strong controls on the media market, and are not afraid to limit ownership where they feel that existing media rules alone will not ensure a sufficient plurality of voices. Our reports include findings such as:
- France, Australia and Canada all restrict ownership at the national and local level.
- Germany measures market share from different types of media and applies a complicated system of weightings to determine overall cross-media holdings.
- Denmark places strict stipulations on the boards and corporate management of local broadcast companies.
- The USA applies a complex ‘sliding scale’ of thresholds for radio ownership across regional markets.
Most regulations take the form of hard limits on market share or reach, with governments blocking mergers and acquisitions that threaten to breach these limits. Others use benchmarks and similar mechanisms to trigger discretionary reviews by regulatory authorities.
The report also identifies a tentative trend of liberalisation, especially in Europe. For example:
- Spain has progressively revised its national ownership rules by means of controversial royal decrees.
- The Netherlands has eliminated cross-media ownership controls beyond ordinary competition law.
- In Australia, limits on foreign ownership have been relaxed, and the government’s veto criteria softened.
- In the USA, regulators skirmish with the courts over the correct form for cross-media regulation.
This is a decisive time for the future of media regulation in the United Kingdom. The Leveson Report has highlighted the major role that tighter ownership rules could play in reforming the press. Our report suggests that tried-and-tested mechanisms used abroad can provide inspiration for the policies we need here in Britain – policies that will secure the plurality of media necessary in a healthy democracy.
Read the report here: The Elephant Next Door