The Italian media are currently fending off a so-called ‘French invasion’. A total of 177 takeovers of Italian companies by the French took place between 2012 and 2016, while Vivendi SA is currently fighting for power at Mediaset SpA and Telecom Italia SpA.
In a climate of increasing media concentration, there has never been a better time to look at the gatekeepers and safeguards concerning media ownership in Europe. The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published a brand new study, Media Ownership, Market Realities and regulatory responses. This report asks how European and national legislation can protect media pluralism, whether this be in the form of a multitude of operators making available a large variety choice of programming, or indeed ensuring the transparency of the financing and ownership structures of the various media providers.
This brand new IRIS Special report was written in collaboration with the Saarbrücken-based Institute of European Media Law (EMR). It begins with a state of the art focus on European media markets. The authors look at parameters such as audience shares of media groups in the broadcast markets, for example, and the concentration of the Pay-TV/distribution markets. The report cites a “major process of consolidation” and underlines that the major pan-European media groups are increasingly present in markets among the value chain of audiovisual works.
The authors then examine European legislation aimed at ensuring media diversity. The Council of Europe has already been underlining the role of the media in protecting democracies since the 1960s. Later on, EU legislation was to make provisions to prevent excessive media concentration. The report distinguishes between “editorial competition” (of thoughts and information) and “economic competition” (related to promoting a competitive and innovative environment).
One of the greatest challenges for EU media law at present is the increasing convergence or “amalgamation of previously separated media sectors”. The European Commission is fully aware of this process and is often involved in market analysis in cases of mergers and acquisitions where dominant positions can be at stake. The report states that both the Council of Europe and the European Union “have a crucial influence on media diversity in Europe”. The former brings together a significantly large number of member states (47) within its various treaties and conventions, and the latter can use EU competition law to prevent mergers which would create too much of a monopoly in any one areas.
The next chapter cites the Media Pluralism Monitor as an instrument to measure media pluralism. The MPM project was created by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute, Florence. It allows systematic analysis of defined indicators within a country in order to determine the degree of concentration of media ownership, or of cross-media ownership. Just like media legislation, the MPM is continually being up-dated and adapted in order to “capture more subtle, yet significant risks to media pluralism”. An example of this is a new indicator which will evaluate revenue trends in the media industry.
A panel of national experts then delivers a systematic, country by country case study of media concentration in Germany, the UK, Italy, France, Spain and Poland. The authors zoom in on each national market and regulatory context. They provide a detailed analysis of the constitutional background to the national media landscape, an overview of the market, the legal structures and instruments in place to prevent media concentration and the current challenges being faced in each country. It transpires that most of the countries examined are currently looking to adapt their legislation to include on-line services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The authors conclude that this brave new world of low-cost publishing of content via the Internet does not, per se, guarantee media pluralism. They state that European legislators must remain vigilant both at national and pan-European levels. Measures such as ensuring transparency of ownership and efficient monitoring procedures remain vital safeguards to ensure that many voices may be expressed and heard in a multi-facetted and diverse European media landscape.