28 July, 2020
New indicators highlight the challenging impact of online platforms on media pluralism
On 23 July 2020, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Freedom has released the third version of its Media Pluralism Monitor, an EU-funded project initiated in 2013. Based on the analysis on four major areas – Basic protection / Market plurality / Political independence / Social inclusiveness – new indicators have been integrated to take into account the digital transformation on the media market. Reflecting a general stagnation and even a deterioration of media pluralism and freedom, this updated report also attempts to provide a preliminary overview of the effects and risks of the digital environment on media pluralism.
The 'basic protection' area reviews the existence and effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms and authorities in place in the countries to protect the freedom of expression and the right to access information. This new report took a closer focus on freedom of expression online, data protection, levels of Internet connectivity and the implementation of European net neutrality obligations.
As a result, it appears that one of the major risks to media pluralism in this area is the lack of transparency among the online platforms regarding content moderation and dissemination practices.
Moreover, it is worth emphasising that, while representing a low risk on average (less than 33%), the de facto independence of media regulatory authorities registers a medium risk (between 34 and 66%) in more than a half of the countries covered.
Regarding the 'market plurality' area (concentration, transparency of ownership, businesses’ influence over editorial content and sustainability of media production), the new indicator ‘Online platforms and competition enforcement’ aims at addressing specifically the impact of digital intermediaries on the distribution of news.
This area, and especially ownership concentration in news media and among digital intermediaries, represents the highest average risk of the monitor, with a significant increase since 2017 (+11%) and no country scores a low risk. Algorithm-driven access to content and the concentration in the online advertising market (sub-indicator Gateways to news) seem to heavily contribute to this increasing risk.
This third edition has also adapted the area of ‘political independence’ (assessment of the politicisation of the resources to the media, the political control of the public media and the protection of the editorial autonomy) to include indicators aimed at assessing political control over digital media, political advertising on social media and the place of journalists in the platforms' realm.
Even though most of the countries maintain the same level of risk since the last edition, for some countries, the safeguards existing in traditional audiovisual media regarding political advertising and election campaigns hardly apply to the online sphere, thus increasing the risk of political influence with regard to online content.
The last area, ‘social inclusiveness’, focuses on the access to media by various social and cultural groups, including also media literacy activities and policies in the countries which tend to be on the rise even though in most countries these policies are not comprehensive.
Adding for the first time a sub-indicator on the protection against hate speech, the report advocates for further research and data on the form and impact of such content in the online sphere.
Years covered: 2018-2019
Geographical scope: EU members, UK, Turkey and Albania.
Further EPRA background: media plurality in the age of algorithms was the topic of the first EPRA podcast released on 9 July 2020 and featuring a timely conversation between Mari Velsand, EPRA Vice Chairperson, and key experts Olaf Steenfadt from Reporters sans frontières, Eleonora Mazzoli from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Elda Brogi from the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom.
A detailed background document, authored by Lewis McQuarrie (Ofcom - UK) sets the frame of conversation for the podcast.