Ofcom concludes its work on the measurement framework for media plurality

posted on 02 December, 2015   (public)

Ofcom concludes its work on the measurement framework for media plurality

On 5 November 2015, Ofcom published its advice to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Measurement framework for media plurality it had been asked to develop in 2011 in order to assess media plurality in the UK and in each of the nations. To do so, the regulator has taken into account the views of stakeholders through both an initial call for inputs (launched on 30 October 2014), and a consultation on a draft framework (published on 11 March 2015). The new statement is not an assessment of the extent of media plurality in the UK but provides a framework for how such an assessment might be made.

The key features of the framework are the following:

  • Availability: the number of different news sources available on each media platform and across all media is a relevant aspect of media plurality. However, although understanding the number of providers or titles gives a sense of the amount of news sources that people can use, it does not indicate the extent to which those sources are being used. As such availability metrics offer limited insight in isolation.
  • Consumption: quantifying the consumption of news sources is considered as the most useful starting point for a plurality assessment. Measuring the use of different news sources across all media platforms is of particular importance. The share of references metric, developed from consumer research and originally proposed in 2010 and refined since then, is deemed an appropriate means of measuring cross-media consumption as it uses a consistent methodology and definition of news. In addition to this cross-media metric, sector specific metrics should also be used - notably to provide more detailed information on each platform.
  • Impact: Ofcom still considers that while quantifying impact is complex, proxies of impact should play a part in any assessment of plurality. In this regard, the personal importance of a news source is the most suitable proxy for impact. Given that no single proxy fully reflects impact Ofcom has now added the proxies of perceived impartiality, reliability, trust, and the extent to which sources help people make up their minds about the news. These proxies can be sourced through consumer research.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State had asked that at least one of the measures focused on media ownership. Ofcom considers ownership in the framework by aggregating availability and consumption metrics by owner. The framework makes a distinction between wholesale and retail functions of news providers. The former refer to news providers that produce their own content, the latter refers to brands or outlets that may carry content produced by third parties.

  • At the retail level, metrics are aggregated according to the individual titles or brands through which consumers access the news.
  • At the wholesale level, they are aggregated according to the supply and production of the news source. Considering consumption metrics at the wholesale level means that the consolidated reach and share of a given media owner can be assessed.

In the consultation, Ofcom had noted the importance of intermediaries (such as search engines or social networks) for the discovery of online content and news sources. However, in many cases, online intermediaries may not be categorised as retail or wholesale news sources if they are neither the provider of a news title or brand nor the producer of a news source. Intermediaries should therefore be considered as a separate category distinct from the retail and wholesale classifications when looking at media consumption metrics. Doing so indicates how news sources are accessed online and the role that intermediaries play, including the extent to which they are used.

The present statement represents the conclusion of Ofcom's work spanned over four years in response to the Secretary of State’s request in relation to the design of a framework for plurality measurement. In the course of the consultation, Ofcom emphasised that media plurality policy and the question of what constitutes ‘sufficient’ media plurality are ultimately for Government and Parliament, while Ofcom’s role is to act as an expert advisor and reporter to the Secretary of State.

Ofcom is still conducting work in related areas. In November, Ofcom published its recommendations to Government concerning the 3-year review of the rules relating to media ownership. In addition, the 2015 edition of the news consumption report across TV, radio, print and online is expected to be published later this year.

Measuring Media Plurality - a Timeline:

Measurement framework for media plurality, Ofcom's advice to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (EN)

Source: Ofcom’s Website