Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: Media Ownership Concentration Laws

Media ownership concentration laws are legislation which regulates media ownership in terms of market share. These laws are an example of state intervention in the marketplace to prevent excessive media ownership by one or more media group. The intent of these laws are to encourage plurality of media information on issues affecting some or all citizens in democratic society. In addition, during election periods, these laws help prevent narrow and imbalanced electoral discourse by limiting the amount of media ownership by one or more media group. However, the laws are only as effective as the caps on ownership concentration and enforcement of them. Moreover, there is no guarantee that media ownership concentration laws will result in broad and balanced campaign coverage, because for example three of the four major owners of television media may have the same political ideological agenda. Also, if there are laws regulating media content during election periods and/or supporting a broad and balanced media coverage for registered candidates and parties, then media concentration laws become relatively redundant.

In summary, media concentration laws are restrictions on the freedom of the media with the context of media ownership. Yet, these laws themselves do not restrict the freedom of the media in terms of its opinion. 

Both Norway and France, as examples, have media ownership concentration laws.

Norway:

The Norwegian state promotes freedom of expression, genuine opportunities to express one's opinions and a comprehensive range of media by media and broadcasters.

Norway's public and private media are not required legally to provide broad and balanced electoral coverage. However, the Norwegian state restricts the ownership concentration of media and broadcasters by allowing no more than:  
  1. share of 40% or more control of daily circulation of daily press
  2. share of 40% or more of total viewing figures of television
  3. share of 40% or more of total listening rating for radio
  4. share of 30% or more of one of the above media markets and 20% or more in one of the other media markets.
  5. share of 20% or more in the markets above
  6. share of 10% or more in one of the media markets and be owner or part owner in the same market of 10% or more (cross-ownership)
  7. 60% or more in total circulation of regional press market (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit on Norway).
France

Radio and television channels have the duty to keep the public informed during the electoral campaign and special broadcasts are organized so candidates have the opportunity to express themselves. The principle applicable to these broadcasts is one of equal treatment of the candidates. CSA closely monitors the media to verify that this principle is upheld.

In France, the state guarantees the freedom of the press and safeguards the independence of the media by preserving the conditions for diverse opinions and pluralism in the media. The law prevents excessive media concentration by prohibiting any one media group from owning more than 30% of daily newspaper circulation. The Act of 29 July 1881 on freedom of the press provides a framework for press freedom by setting restrictions aimed at striking a balance between freedom of speech, protection of individual rights, and public order. In 1984, the Constitutional Council acknowledged the constitutional value of press freedom and its necessary role in a democracy.

The guidance for public television channels and the agreements signed by private channels set forth ethical principles of independence and pluralism similar to those defined in the legislation. The Higher Audiovisual Council (www.csa.fr), France’s independent media watchdog, guarantees media freedom. It is not empowered either to impose or to prevent the airing of a programme, but supervises programme compliance with the law and channel guidance after it is broadcast. The CSA pays special attention to programmes for young audiences and to ensuring that the same amount of broadcast time is allocated to political parties and candidates during electoral periods. Act 2000-719 of 1 August 2000 on media freedom amends and expands the 1986 Act by increasing the diversity of the audiovisual offering, chiefly through provisions on the introduction of digital terrestrial television and the establishment of local television stations (French Embassy in the United Kingdom; Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit of France).

North America:

Both Canada and the United States, as examples, do not have media concentration laws. In the United States, freedom of the media is protected through the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the FDA's 2012 U.S. Media Study, the FDA found only one instance of excessive media concentration:


From the 2012 FDA U.S. Federal Election System Report, there is no regulation of media in terms of broad and balanced election coverage. From its U.S. Media Study, the FDA measured imbalanced coverage in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election with Obama receiving more total media coverage than Romney, and third-parties media coverage being almost non-existent: 

The pie chart captures the
percentage of prime time news market share ABC, NBC, and CBS has compared to
all other U.S. national news networks, cable news, and public news networks in
terms of prime time audience (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012)

The bar chart captures the total media exposure in terms of percentage biases of the American political parties and their presidential candidates from the FDA data collection. The bar chart factors in percentage of coverage as well. Barack Obama had more total coverage than Mitt Romney. In addition, Romney had a greater percentage of negative coverage as compared to Obama, and Obama had a greater percentage of positive coverage as compared to Romney. The third-party candidates had 1.25 percent of the total media coverage from the FDA data collection of 7,921 data points (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012).


The bar chart captures the total media exposure in terms of percentage biases of the American political parties and their presidential candidates from the FDA data collection. The bar chart factors in percentage of coverage as well. Barack Obama had more total coverage than Mitt Romney.  In addition, Romney had a greater percentage of negative coverage as compared to Obama, and Obama had a greater percentage of positive coverage as compared to Romney. The third-party candidates had 1.25 percent of the total media coverage from the FDA data collection of 7,921 data points (Foundation for Democratic Advancement, 2012).

In Canada, similar to the United States, freedom of the media is protected the Broadcast Laws, and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Consequently, there are media ownership concentration issues in Canada. For example, from the FDA's 2012 Alberta Media Study, two companies have 89.60 percent of the daily newspaper circulation.



Alberta daily newspaper companies
2010 weekly paid circulation
% of weekly circulation
Black Press
83,987
3.30%
Glacier Cdn/Alta Newspaper Group
183,074
7.10%
Postmedia Network
1,670,313
64.80%
Quebecor/Sun Media
641,594
24.90%
Total
2,578,968
100.00%
Total of Alberta Daily Market by Postmedia and Quebecor/Sun Media
89.60%


In terms of Canadian federal elections, there is minimal processes to ensure broad and balanced coverage, and a national private media consortium determines which party leaders will be allowed to participate in the two national debates. The FDA has no data on actual national media concentration with the exception that there are only two national newspapers owned by two different companies, and five national television networks.

The following is a summary of the FDA’s key findings regarding the Canadian federal media laws:

1. There is no legislated media requirement for broad and balanced political coverage both during and outside of the campaign period.

Impact:

Political coverage of candidates and parties both during and outside of an election can be narrow and imbalanced. This system favours certain established, large, or incumbent parties over smaller or new candidates and parties, and as a result, the public lacks information regarding their complete electoral choices.

2. There are no media ownership concentration laws.

Impact:

With no media ownership concentration laws and no requirement for broad and balanced election coverage, there is the potential for oligopolistic and monopolistic media ownership, and thereby narrow and imbalanced election coverage.

3. The Canadian press has no legislated or private code of conduct/practice for broad and balanced coverage during elections.

Impact:

Political coverage of candidates and parties both during and outside of an election can be narrow and imbalanced. This system favours certain established, large, or incumbent parties over smaller or new candidates and parties, and as a result, the public lacks information regarding their complete electoral choices (2013 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit of Canada).

Discussion:

The FDA takes the position that elections center on the views of the electors, and that the media's role during election periods is to provide broad and balanced election coverage, and thereby help to ensure that electorate is fully informed of the backgrounds and policies of all registered political candidates and parties. The FDA acknowledges that being fully informed requires effort on the part of the electorate to become informed. The FDA does not agree with the argument that freedom of speech and the press should supersede a fully informed electorate, because as mentioned, the elections are fundamentally about the electorate and their voice.

Questions: 

Should the protection of freedom of speech take precedence over creating the conditions for a fully informed electorate like in France and Norway? Does freedom alone guarantee the optimal democracy? The FDA takes the view that excessive freedom will allow those persons the most political and economic power to dominate electoral discourse (in a Darwinian like way), and thereby potentially weaken the conditions for a fully informed electorate. By the same token, excessive controls on freedom of speech will allow those persons the most political power to dominate electoral discourse (in a communist like way), and thereby potentially weaken the conditions for a fully informed electorate. Therefore, the FDA believes a balances needs to obtained between freedom of media during election periods and regulation of media.

In terms of the FDA audits, media ownership concentrations laws are valued over no media ownership concentration laws, subject to others measures which achieve the same ends as these laws. Is this valuation consistent with democratic principles and a fully informed electorate?

If you have any questions or comments either post them in the comment section to the post, or email them to the Foundation for Democratic Advancement. We answer all questions and consider all comments within reasonable limits. 







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director






2 comments:

Thank you for sharing your perspective.