On 24 April 2014, the Media Reform Coalition published its newest report ‘The Elephant In The Room: a survey of media ownership and plurality in the United Kingdom.’ [pdf]
The report considers the changing landscape of media ownership across national, regional and local press, as well as radio, TV and internet news sources. Although the state of the UK’s media has been under close examination since the start of the Leveson Inquiry in 2011, media ownership has somehow managed to escape from scrutiny. It is the elephant in the room: obvious to all but never discussed.
‘The Elephant In The Room’ charts some worrying trends that signal the increasing concentration of UK media into fewer and fewer hands. We view media plurality as crucial for a healthy democracy, and vital for ensuring the public has access to a wide range of news and views from independent providers.
The statistics gathered about the spread of local media are worrisome – 1/4 of all Local Government Areas (LGAs) aren’t served by a local newspaper, while 35% are covered by only a single local news outlet. Since March 2011, a total of 141 local papers have shut down, and now in 224 LGAs (55% of total) the same 4 companies have majority ownership of the local market.
The ownership of national newspapers remains concentrated in just a few large companies: 70% of the UK national market is controlled by just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail and General Trust, and Trinity Mirror), with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK fully holding a third of the entire market share.
55% of national radio listenership is held by the BBC’s channels, however almost news content for almost all commercial radio stations is provided by Sky News, giving them 43% of the national audience share for radio.
The collapse of the BSkyB deal in 2011, following the revelations of the phone hacking scandal, was a small victory for plurality in the UK. However, when viewed in context of the huge cross-media operation of News Corporation, the figures give no reason for celebration or complacency.
News Corp. still holds 39% in BSkyB, effectively counting as joint-leadership between the two companies. Along with its print and radio news outlets, News Corp. controls 20% of the market share across all UK media outlets, almost twice that of the public service news services provided by the BBC.
The report demonstrates that concentration in ownership across the UK’s news and information markets has reached endemic levels. The existing Public Interest Test (which sees regulators and government taking occasional looks at media plurality) has failed to prevent the continued concentration of UK media into fewer and fewer hands.
Along with wider structural remedies to protect local and regional media the report recommends that ownership limits should be enshrined in statute, to ensure that the public is always served by a pluralistic and independent media.