NUJ backs peers' call for regular and independent review of media plurality
4 February 2014
Regulation of media ownership should be taken out of the hands of politicians and regular reviews of media plurality should be carried out by Ofcom, the House of Lords communications committee has recommended.
Its report, published following consultation with a range of broadcasting and press organisations and pressure groups, including the NUJ, has concluded that Ofcom should carry out "periodic plurality reviews", that the BBC should be included in any assessment of plurality – but not be subject to control measures outside its own regulatory framework – that digital media such as Facebook and Twitter should be assessed and the "responsibility for reconciling plurality and competition" should rest with Ofcom and not the secretary of state.
The report said the government should introduce a statutory periodic review of the plurality of the media markets on a four-to- five-year basis and "there must also be a mechanism for intervening where this can be justified and organic market change causes immediate and pressing concerns".
The regulator would make its decisions based upon "the sufficiency of diversity of viewpoints available and consumed across and within media enterprises and the extent to which any one media owner or voice may have too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda".
The NUJ, in its submission to the inquiry, said:
"If Rupert Murdoch’s BskyB deal had gone through, which it would have done if News Corp had not withdrawn following the phone hacking scandal, this merged company would have had a reach of 52 per cent of the adult population. The NUJ believes Ofcom should review plurality at regular intervals and also when organic changes threaten changes to the market. The power to invoke the public interest test should be assigned to Ofcom rather than the secretary of state."
Lord Inglewood, the committee's chair, said:
"Issues surrounding media plurality have come under the policy spotlight during the present parliament, prompted by concerns raised about the proposed (and then dropped) acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation."
The report recommended the government and the BBC, in negotiating Charter renewal, should
"consider whether the BBC might be given a more explicit responsibility – with respect to its online offer for news and current affairs content – to stimulate consumption of diverse viewpoints from different external sources; and that the BBC Charter review process should make clear what licence fee funding is for".
"As a separate matter, we also note that licence fee money is already being allocated, as far as we can tell at the government's request, to projects external to the BBC such as S4C with—if not explicit — tacit approval of the BBC Trust. It is not out of place, therefore to make the following recommendation:
"We recommend that the Charter review process makes clear what licence fee funding is for, and that, as long as it is conceivably available for projects external to the BBC, it is also made clear what strategic role, if any, this funding might play in positively promoting external plurality in the wider UK media. For our part, we urge the Government to support our view that the licence fee should be for the BBC alone, though we do not argue that funding to S4C should now be removed."