Insights Ofcom publishes call for evidence and consultation on the “Future of Media Plurality in the UK”

Ofcom has launched a programme of work to help inform its next steps on media plurality in the UK and ensure that the regulatory framework for media plurality remains fit for purpose. Ofcom says that media plurality supports democracy by ensuring that people can receive a wide range of viewpoints from a variety of different sources, and that no one media owner has too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda. Ofcom has a range of duties under the Communications Act 2003 to support media plurality in the UK.

Ofcom says that the way that people access news and information has changed significantly since these duties were introduced. The influence of online news sources has grown substantially and social media, search engines and news aggregators are increasingly acting as intermediaries between news content and the public.

Given the scale of changes to the market, Ofcom wants to develop its understanding of news plurality in the online age, including the nature of any concerns, to consider whether and how regulation may need to be updated. To inform its next steps, Ofcom has published a call for evidence seeking views on three specific areas:

  • the role and impact of online intermediaries and algorithms to deliver news on UK consumers and the market;
  • market changes excluding media mergers, and whether these changes have presented new or increased existing plurality concerns; and
  • any other features of the UK news media landscape that may have implications for news consumption in the UK or which may raise potential concerns for plurality.

Having reviewed the existing Media Ownership Rules, which Ofcom is required to do every three years, the regulator has provisionally concluded that they continue, in part, to support Parliament’s policy goal of ensuring the media operates in the public interest.

However, Ofcom is consulting on recommended changes to the rules to ensure they better reflect the supply and consumption of news in today’s market. This includes a proposal that the Secretary of State broadens the scope of the Media Public Interest Test framework to cover concerns in mergers involving a broader range of “news creators”, beyond print newspapers and broadcasters.

The closing date for responses to the call for evidence and provisional conclusions on the existing media ownership rules is 5:00pm on 10 August 2021.

Ofcom will also shortly publish its statement on how to secure the future of public service media, following its consultation that closed in March 2021, which will include the promotion of media plurality in an online world. To access the call for evidence and the consultation, click here.