Insights Ofcom publishes statement on the future of media plurality in the UK

Ofcom’s statement sets out the next steps that Ofcom plans to take to ensure that the regulatory framework for media plurality in the UK remains fit for the modern news landscape. Ofcom has also published a report to the Secretary of State following its review of the current media ownership rules.

Ofcom says that the way that people access news and information has changed significantly since duties on Ofcom to support media plurality in the UK were introduced in 2003. 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.

Ofcom launched a programme of work in June 2021 to understand what these market changes might mean for media plurality, and to ensure that the current media ownership rules better reflect the supply and consumption of news today.

Taking account of the responses to its call for evidence, Ofcom has identified three features of the modern UK media landscape that may present a risk to media plurality, but which are not captured under the existing regulatory framework:

  • online intermediaries and their algorithms control the prominence they give to different news sources and stories;
  • the basis on which online intermediaries serve news via their algorithms is not sufficiently transparent; and
  • people do not always critically engage with the accuracy and partiality of online news.

Ofcom says that it will next build a detailed understanding of whether and how these issues present concerns for media plurality in the UK and consider how they might be addressed. Ofcom plans to set out recommendations by summer 2022.

As part of the same programme for work launched in June 2021, Ofcom launched a consultation on media ownership rules. Following this consultation, Ofcom has concluded that the media ownership rules set by Parliament continue, in part, to support its policy goal of ensuring that the media operates in the public interest.

Ofcom is therefore recommending that some of those rules should be retained in their current form, but that others should be modified to better reflect the way people access and consume news today. This includes a recommendation that the Secretary of State should broaden 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. To access the Statement and the report on media ownership rules, click here.