Who owns the media in Europe? The EU-funded project will create a central database for information on media ownership in 15 European union member states.
The 15 European Union Member States on which media ownership information will be collected represent large and small states as well as Western and Eastern countries, including countries with identified risks to media ownership transparency. The Euromedia Ownership Monitor aims to (1) provide systematic information on the ownership and control of the main news media in the EU Member States, (2) identify what relevant information is missing, and (3) assess the risks to transparency of media ownership and control in each country.
Media ownership transparency and media ownership concentration has been a topic of policy research by the members of the Euromedia Research Group (EMRG, www.euromediagroup.org) since more than three decades. Over all these years of research it became clear that media concentration is a complex issue with no clear-cut implications. On the one hand, media ownership concentration in its various forms and formats contribute to strengthening the resilience of news media against all kinds of external influence – from politics, commercial customers and other powerful groups in society. Concentrated media conglomerates normally are stronger market actors. On the other hand, media ownership concentration constitutes an important risk to diversity and plurality in democratic countries, both in terms of market competition, and in terms of public opinion formation and the public sphere. High levels of media ownership concentration are incompatible with fundamental democratic norms and values.
As a consequence of these countervailing forces, media policy often appears paralysed, both at the national, and at the supranational level. The history of policy projects regarding media ownership concentration by the (then) European Community exemplifies this ambiguity. A small common denominator is the agreement that ownership transparency is helpful to balance some of the negative implications of ownership, as recent EU publications such as the “2020 Rules of Law Report” (2020) and the “Study on the implementation of the new provision in the revised audio-visual Media Services directive” (Deloitte and SMIT 2021) suggest. Furthermore, media ownership transparency is part of the “Media Pluralism Monitor” by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) and the “Media Ownership Monitor” by Reporters without borders/Reporters sans frontiers.
Our approach to media ownership also starts from ownership transparency, but does not stop there. In our theoretical approach we suggest to widen the concept towards the framework of the principle-agent-theory, which allows to better understand the risks created by media ownership. By including the agent into the equation behavioural patterns become visible, which incur risks as well as opportunities.
For the pilot study “Euromedia Ownership Monitor” (EurOMo) we develop, design and feed a newly established databank for media ownership transparency and media ownership risks. This database, located in Finland, accommodates theory-based indicators in the dimensions of media supply, media distribution and the legal framework. It will remain operational beyond the end of the pilot project, it is scalable and can be used for future research and monitoring activities.
Photo by Joel Fulgencio