Theory: media pluralism as key for democratic societies
Media pluralism is a key aspect of democratic societies as free, independent, and diverse media reflect divergent viewpoints and allow criticism of people in power.
Generally, one can distinguish internal media pluralism which refers to how social and political diversity are reflected in media content (e.g. representation of different cultural groups, diverse political or ideological opinions). External media pluralism, on the other hand, covers the number and structure of owners also known as the “plurality” of suppliers.
Risks to diversity of ideas are caused by media market concentration – the opposite of media pluralism -
- when only a few players exert dominant influence on public opinion and raise entrance barriers for other players and perspectives (media ownership concentration);
- when media content is uniform and focused only on specific topics, people, ideas and opinions (media content concentration);
- when the audiences only read, watch and listen to certain media outlets (media audience concentration).
Goal: delivering transparency of media ownership
Notwithstanding that media pluralism encompasses many dimensions and faces as many risks, the MOM focuses on external pluralism, and more precisely on media ownership concentration as a potential threat to media pluralism.
The biggest obstacle presents itself in the lack of transparency of media ownership: How can people evaluate the reliability of information, if they don´t know who provides it? How can journalists work properly, if they don´t know who controls the company they work for? And how can media authorities address excessive media concentration, if they don´t know who is behind the media´s steering wheel?
MOM thus aims to create transparency and to answer the question “who eventually controls media content?”
- by informing about the owner of the most important media outlets of the different types of media (television, radio, internet, print) and their affiliations;
- by analyzing the potential influence on the public opinion-forming process based on audience concentration;
- by shedding light on the regulation of media ownership and concentration, as well as the implementation of regulatory safeguards.
Means: data collection and fieldwork
Based on a generic methodology, the “Media Ownership Monitor” (MOM) has been developed as a mapping exercise in order to create a publicly available, continuously updated database that lists owners of all relevant mass media outlets. It creates transparency on who owns media, which interests and affiliation owners have, to which extent dependencies exist and thus, who really has a potential influence on public opinion. Fieldwork is not only aimed at finding out, who holds the stakes, but at investigating who eventually controls media. In addition, MOM provides a contextualization and qualitative analysis by assessing the respective market specifics and legal environment in the countries as well.
Data collection in Serbia was done by a local research team from Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Instrument: MOM-user guide
The data collection is conducted following a detailed User Guide, covering following sections:
- Section A “Context” provides a first look into the media market and flanking conditions, such as the regulatory framework related to ownership issues, country information and media-specific data. This section allows to better understand the findings of the following sections and to contextualize estimated risks for media plurality.
- In Section B “Media Market”, the types of media that are relevant for opinion-formation are agreed upon on the basis of the audience reach. At most 10 media outlets per media type - TV, radio, print and Internet – are selected.
- In Section C “Ownership”, owner/ shareholder/ people with influence on the most relevant media are researched. Key media companies are defined economically (related to their revenue) and investigated concerning their ownership characteristics.
- Section D “Indicators” explains the indicators which allow calculating an index for the risk to media pluralism caused by a certain level of media ownership control.
The User Guide is developed on the basis of already existing research on media ownership and media pluralism. The indicators are inspired by and harmonized with the EU-funded (Media Pluralism Monitor) of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) at the European University Institute (EUI, Florence).