Media Plurality - Communications Committee Contents


The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, chaired by Lord Inglewood, is announcing today an inquiry into media plurality. The Committee invites interested organisations and individuals to submit written evidence as part of the inquiry.

Written evidence is sought by Wednesday 1 May 2013. Public hearings are expected to be held in June, July and in the Autumn. The Committee aims to report to the House, with recommendations, in the late Autumn. The report will receive a response from the Government and may be debated in the House.

Achieving a workable approach to plurality, particularly in provision of news and current affairs, is generally considered fundamental to a well-functioning democratic society, ensuring as far as possible informed citizens and a media without any single set of views or individuals wielding too much influence over the political process. Any consideration of plurality is, of course, heavily tied in with the wider context of the future of news provision more generally, particularly of newspapers which, under the current framework, remain the principal force in agenda-setting and informed, opinionated commentary.

While one of the Committee's previous reports looked at The Ownership of the News, issues surrounding media plurality are once again under the policy spotlight, prompted by concerns raised about the proposed (and then dropped) acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation; Ofcom's report on Measuring Media Plurality; Lord Justice Leveson's report; the report by the European Commission's High Level Media Group on Media Freedom & Plurality; and the recently launched European citizens' initiative for media pluralism.

Together these have raised a number of ways in which the policy and regulatory framework currently surrounding plurality needs updating. The focus placed on plurality across these various fora might create the expectation that a consensus is forming and that momentum is now building behind reform. However, plurality has been rather absent from recent debates and we hope, having considered it carefully, to make recommendations which will lead to action.

The need for a Committee of Parliament to undertake this inquiry is clear. While Ofcom and Lord Justice Leveson have made a number of proposals relating to plurality, both have insisted that in a whole range of areas, it is for Parliament to give guidance on the objectives and broad principles of policy relating to plurality. The following quotes are indicative:

(a)  "There are … areas where a high degree of judgement is required. The appropriate approach to exercising such judgement is ultimately for Parliament to debate and determine."[202]

(b)  "Along with other aspects of this Report, I agree that this is a choice for Parliament to make."[203]

Finally, we note that this inquiry makes for an almost seamless follow on to our inquiry into media convergence. Evidence received during that inquiry underlined ways in which convergence has created new threats and exacerbated long-standing concerns about pluralistic provision of news and current affairs (e.g. breakdown of traditional market boundaries, threats to the business model for journalism, news aggregation, the 'filter bubble', concentration of ownership, vertical integration, etc.). While time did not allow for these issues to be considered in their own right, the previous inquiry has primed them and we look forward to receiving more focussed evidence on these points now.

The Committee would welcome written submissions on the main concerns associated with the current legal and regulatory framework for plurality, and particularly proposals, or endorsements and criticisms of existing proposals, on how this framework might be brought up to date. The Committee will draw on this evidence to make forward-looking but concrete recommendations. To assist those making written submissions, what follows are a number of the broad questions on which the Committee would be interested to receive evidence and opinion. You need not address all of these areas or questions. The Committee would also welcome any other views, and practical proposals, of which stakeholders think the Committee should be aware.

·  Does a clearer objective for plurality policy need to be thought out and incorporated into statute than is currently the case? What should this be?

·  In the absence of a definition of plurality in statute, Ofcom have provided the following working formulation. Is this the best definition, or should it be improved?

(a)  "ensuring there is a diversity of viewpoints available and consumed across and within media enterprises and;

(b)  preventing any one media owner or voice having too much influence over public opinion and the political process/agenda."[204]

·  What should the scope of media plurality policy be? Should it encompass news and current affairs or wider cultural diversity in content provision as well?

·  What are the appropriate triggers for a review of media plurality and with whom should discretion to trigger a review reside, or indeed should reviews be periodic? Alternatively, should reviews be periodic while still retaining the possibility that a review can be triggered under certain circumstances? What should those circumstances be?

·  For the purposes of a review of media plurality, what should 'sufficient plurality' mean as described in Sections 3 and 375 of the Communications Act 2003? How should the growing role played by digital intermediaries acting as gateways to content be taken into account?

·  How should 'sufficient plurality' be measured?

·  Should the BBC's output be included in a review of it?

·  How can internal plurality be sensibly measured against external plurality?

·  What structural and/or behavioural remedies are appropriate if insufficient plurality is found?

·  How should the deployment of these either structural or behavioural remedies be balanced with considerations of the wider context of news provision (e.g. the future of news provision and its financial viability)?

·  With whom should power to deploy these remedies ultimately reside? What process for their deployment should be observed?

·  To what extent should plurality be seen in a wider EU context, particularly given the argument recently made that the Commission has competence to review and impose obligations in these areas?

·  What should the UK learn from international approaches to media plurality?

28 March 2013

202   Ofcom, Measuring media plurality, Ofcom's advice to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, 19 June 2012. Available online: Back

203   The Leveson Inquiry, An inquiry in the culture, practices and ethics of the press, report, volume III, November 2012. Available online: Back

204   Ofcom, 6 June 2012. Measuring media plurality: Ofcom's advice to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. Available online: Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014