Kevin Rudd

There has been a lot said about Kevin Rudd’s petition for a Royal Commission to ensure a strong, diverse Australian news media’. There was Rod Tiffen’s comment that Mr Rudd then responded to, and a host of other reports including this piece from Margaret Simons on the thinking behind the petition.  And Zoe Samios ran this piece about the difficulty of pinpoint the reach of News Corp in Australia.

There is certainly a lot of history between Mr Rudd and the main targets of his petition – Rupert Murdoch and News Corp – but maybe we can accept that, regardless of Mr Rudd’s views on News’ reporting on the ALP, there are some legitimate questions here about concentration of ownership and media responsibility.

Philip Napoli’s recent book, ‘Social Media and the Public Interest’ asks whether public interest objectives that traditionally attach to news media can be applied to social media and digital platforms. Napoli observes that, just as oligopolistic markets tend to undermine the rationale for a ‘marketplace of ideas’, the idea that ‘counter speech’ is the answer to false news is looking more shaky in a global, digital environment. While there are other reasons for rejecting the marketplace of ideas approach (as our colleague, Kari Karpinnen explained so well in Rethinking Media Pluralism) it still has influence in Australia, particularly in our fragmented approach to media standards.

But while Napoli has asked about applying public interest principles to social media, in Australia it seems we have enough problems applying it to traditional media. The ‘Save our Voices’ campaign, launched by the three regional broadcasting networks with Australian Community Media and fronted by Ray Martin, wants the removal of the one-to-a-market cap on commercial television licences. With the repeal of the cross-media rules and the national audience reach rule, the licence cap is the cornerstone of structural diversity in Australian commercial media. It means that in most licence areas, there will be at least three commercial media operations. Broadcasting law no longer stops mergers between local newspapers, television and radio, and neither does it regulate ownership of online news sites or other digital media, pay TV or national newspapers.  In the concentrated Australian media market, there must be an alternative to further concentration in regional Australia.

It was good, then, to see Michelle Rowland, the shadow communications spokesperson, speak of the need to rethink regulation in a way that ‘takes account of algorithms as much as ownership’ and that considers both media plurality and industry sustainability. She also referred to the research the ACCC commissioned from the Centre for Media Transition – which drew on the work we’ve been pursuing in the Media Pluralism Project – showing the need for ways of measuring media plurality that take account of aspects such as consumption and impact. While the one-licence for TV and two-licence for Radio caps on ownership are important, these shouldn’t be the only two tools (the other being the local area points test) that we have available for assessing plurality. That, of course, is what we’ve been working on at the Media Pluralism Project, and we hope to have a new tool for demonstration very soon.

As we’ve argued before (and as has Des Freedman et al. at the Media Reform Coalition in the UK), in order to maintain and ‘future proof’ a media ecology that is capable of sustaining a range of diverse and conflicting voices and perspectives some genuine media reform is urgently required. At a minimum this would include:

  • A plurality/diversity measurement framework that takes into account cross-market audience share in traditional (TV, Radio, Newspaper) and online news markets. This framework needs to include various methodologies that uses quantitative measures of reach and consumption, and qualitative data on the wider media agenda impact;
  • Regular reviews by an independent regulator to evaluate relevant thresholds based on these cross-media market audience shares. These thresholds would be actively monitored to guide intervention and remedies aimed at promoting a diverse media ecology at the national and local level including in relation to public service media provision;
  • News distribution on digital platforms/intermediaries should be taken into account in assessments of diversity including the impact of algorithms on news brand availability (and the public affairs content of those brands). This kind of monitoring by an independent regulator would, using appropriate metrics, assess whether or not platform algorithms are favouring particular news providers and voices over others; and, very importantly,
  • In the event of mergers between media organisations an independent regulator should be able to apply a public interest test to assess whether the particular combination of media groups will benefit audiences in terms of the provision of public affairs content in the markets if the transaction were to proceed.

Original image available here.

Media Pluralism - Ofcom

On 21 January 2020, under their obligations as the main media regulator in the UK to investigate the impacts of mergers on media plurality, Ofcom was issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice (or “PIIN”) by the UK’s Secretary of State (SoS) for Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport (DMCS).

Ofcom was asked to investigate (under section 44A of the Enterprise Act 2002 by 13 March 2020) the public interest impacts of a merger between Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) and JPI Media publication groups in terms of a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers in each market for newspapers in the UK. The Competition and Markets Authority (as part of the Public Interest test) was separately required to report to the Secretary of State on the grounds of competition policy.

As we’ve mentioned previously, Australia has no such equivalent public interest test that works on plurality grounds.

Interestingly, the Public Interest test ground on which Ofcom was requested to report by the SoS for DMCS related solely to the impact on the plurality of views in newspapers. But recognising the wide-spread societal changes to the way news is now distributed and consumed in the UK on multiple platforms and devices, Ofcom chose to take into account the wider UK news market.

Investigation of the plurality impacts of the DMGT and JPI Media Publications is the fourth major Public Interest test undertaken in the UK since the introduction of Ofcom’s Media Pluralism framework, but only the second involving newspapers (the first involving Trinity Media, now known as ‘Reach’). Previous investigations involving the Public Interest test on completed acquisitions have included: the said acquisition by Trinity Mirror plc of publishing assets of Northern & Shell Media Group Limited in June 2017; the acquisition by International Media Company of shares in Lebedev Holdings Limited and by Scalable Inc of shares in Independent Digital News and Media Limited in June 2018; and the proposed acquisition of Sky plc by 21st Century Fox Inc. which was ultimately surpassed by a knock out bid by Comcast then only to end up as part of the Disney and News Corp buy out arrangements in March 2019.

It’s worth briefly mentioning key points of perhaps the best known of these earlier investigations, the BSkyB/Twenty First Century Fox merger. The investigation by Ofcom in that merger had two distinct components, one relating to sufficient plurality and the other relating to broadcasting standards. On the question of sufficient plurality, Ofcom’s advice to the SoS for DCMS was that the proposed merger raised significant public interest concerns as a result of the increased influence of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process. As a result it found this may justify making a reference by the SoS to the CMA.

Ofcom recommended, among other options, the option of a specific undertaking whereby Sky News would establish an independent editorial board to mitigate and insulate Sky News from the influence arising from the control by Twenty First Century Fox.

In terms of the Ofcom’s plurality measurement framework which was used to assist Ofcom in making their decision, the share of ‘cross platform audience’ and ‘Share of Reference’ metrics (from their 2018 News Consumption Survey) are shown in the following slides:

Cross Platform Retail Providers

Cross Platform Retail Providers

Retail Provider Share of Reference

Retail Provider Share of Reference







The slides show how, at a retail level, cross platform audience reach is led by the BBC, ITV, Sky and DMGT in that order. For the share of reference metric, it can be seen again to be led by a long way by the BBC, followed by the same players: ITV, Sky and DMGT media groups. Interestingly, the major ‘intermediary’, Facebook, has a greater share than the second, third and fourth media groups.

The most recent Ofcom application of a Public Interest test has been in advice provided to the UK Secretary of State for the Daily Mail and General Trust plc takeover of JPI Media Publications limited in March 2020.

While all the Public Interest test applications following the introduction of the Measurement Framework have relied on the Share of Reference mechanism, this latest decision is particularly interesting for us because of a fairly detailed discussion of brand influence and title ‘voice’, in the context of the assessment of sufficient pluralism. Ofcom have also delved into a distinction long used in pluralism policy and regulation analysis: between the ‘external’ and ‘internal’ pluralism dimensions of the takeover. The former has been applied to the wider newspaper market in the UK, while the latter has been deployed in relation to the stable of DMGT titles themselves.

The overall summative findings in their advice to the SoS are that the “transaction should be considered in the context of the challenges faced by newspapers in a changing news market” and, that Ofcom, “do not expect the transaction to reduce the plurality of views provided across newspaper groups in the UK”. While it is noted that the number of media groups in the UK has dropped from seven to six, the argument is made that the number of titles has not changed. Furthermore, and drawing on the slides shown below, the i newspaper has a relatively small readership with less than 0.1% share of cross media news consumption. It is suggested that this increase in total DMGT share makes little difference to the overall share post-merger. There’s analysis of the audience of the i newspaper indicating that the readership tend to use a larger than typical range of news sources, and this therefore provides an ameliorating effect through the dilution of the i’s impact for this group.

Retail Preference pre and post 2019

Retail Preference pre and post 2019

Reach of platforms pre and post 2019

Reach of platforms pre and post 2019









In their recommendation on the DMGT/JPI Media deal to the SoS, Ofcom gave the merger the green light. Their argument was that the nominal increase of share of reference in ‘retail’ sources flowing from the merged group (see the slides above, where retail reach increases by 1% and share of reference change is less then 1%), and the likely survival of the ‘i’ (newspaper) voice in the DMGT group’s titles (in itself an interesting argument involving insulated editorial control etc.), maintains ‘sufficient pluralism’ and therefore warrants it going ahead.

Although the European Union can be seen as a forerunner in the regulation of platforms and technology companies, it’s decision-making regarding issues related to media and communication is peculiarly complex. In issues such as data protection and the competition policy, the EU has been able to pass directives that have far-reaching consequences even for companies outside Europe. In more traditional media and cultural policy, however, the EU does not have much direct competence to intervene in issues related to media pluralism, apart from declarations and pronouncements. Partly because of this, the EU has attempted to promote media pluralism by means of ‘soft law’ approaches, such as measurement and monitoring. For example, the Media Pluralism Monitor tool has been developed to identify risks to media pluralism in EU member states. Although this remains one of the most sophisticated tools to assess different aspect of media pluralism, it has also inevitably highlighted the difficulties of defining and operationalizing the complex and contested concept of ‘media pluralism’ – and the different national policy traditions and political connotations associated with the concept.