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Bar politicians from decisions on media mergers LSE report advises Leveson

The Leveson Inquiry should recommend the removal of politicians completely from the process of deciding individual cases on media competition or pluarity, with the final decision being made by an independent regulatory body such as Ofcom, an LSE policy brief launched today (5 July 2012) has advised.

The report, by academics from LSE, the University of Edinburgh and European University Institute, also recommends the (re)establisment of fixed ownership limits for media mergers which would be periodically reviewed by the independent regulator as a safeguard against concentration of influence in the sector.

The new regulation should be precautionary, certain, independent and justiciable.
‘The current media ownership controls are too complex, open to challenge and place too much discretion in the hands of the relevant minister. We suggest reconsideration of fixed limits, based on metrics suited to our converged media environment, which would lead to a simpler, more predictable merger procedure” says Damian Tambini.

Taking European benchmarks as a standard, the report’s co-author, Rachael Craufurd Smith, notes that:

“The media not only need protection from government control and influence, but citizens and the government may need protection from powerful private media companies.”

Report co-author Damian Tambini points out that new technologies, which are believed to have lowered entry barriers for newcomers in the industry, have thus far failed to diminish the power of media conglomerates. He argues this provides further justification for re-instituting media ownership controls in the UK:

“New media technologies mean there are new dimensions of ‘communication power’ not captured by the traditional regulatory frameworks for media pluralism. Increasing reliance is placed on general competition law, which allows some scope to consider consumer but not citizens’ interests.”

The report suggests a combination of two responses for the new policy settlement: structural rules that govern the size of media companies and mergers between them and behavioural rules that place limits on the use of opinion forming power. These new limits, it stresses, should be established based on share of audience exposure to content, both in relation to news/current affairs and content in general, but should also consider ownership at the wholesale level. The authors argue that decisions makers must look at agencies such as Reuters or other news providers - the underlying business behind several ‘brands' - to get a more comprehensive picture of an entity’s influence.

Following evidence of political manoeuvring by public officials tasked with overseeing News Corp’s BSkyB bid, the report further recommends that ministers be barred from deciding on mergers and undertakings - a duty which should instead be relegated to an independent media regulatory body such as Ofcom.

The full Policy Brief containing these findings and recommendations can be found at:
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/documents/MPP/Policy-Brief-7-Media-Pluralism.pdf|

Ends

The author available for press inquiries: Damian Tambini, LSE Department of Media and Communications, 07803 932965, d.tambini@lse.ac.uk|

Sally Broughton Micova, LSE Department of Media and Communications, 07904852037, s.e.broughton-micova@lse.ac.uk|

Notes:

The Media Policy Project is based in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. It aims to establish a deliberative relationship between policy makers, civil society actors, media professionals and relevant media research.

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