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How does Europe ensure a varied and diverse media landscape with variety of choice for its users?

The European Audiovisual Observatory publishes a new report on Media pluralism and competition issues
Strasbourg, France 17 December 2020
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How does Europe ensure a varied and diverse media landscape with variety of choice for its users?

Download our IRIS Special report: Media pluralism and competition issues

In the current COVID climate of information, disinformation and mistrust it seems vital to protect media pluralism in Europe. This ensures that multiple voices are heard in any debate, variety of user choice is protected, and no one individual or organisation may control the information flow or ensuing debate. Monopolies are avoided. The European Audiovisual Observatory has just released its latest in-depth IRIS Special report: Media pluralism and competition issues.
This new report was drafted under the scientific coordination of Mark D. Cole and Jörg Ukrow from the Observatory’s partner institute, the Institute of European Media Law (EMR) and brings together articles from an impressive team of national experts.
Following the introduction, chapter two offers a useful exploration of the actual definition of media pluralism. Clearly the digital transformation of our media landscape has brought major concentration issues with it. Traditional linear structures have disappeared giving way to new, shorter value chains. Algorithms which control and dictate the information we receive on social media platforms can develop so-called echo chambers, which can restrict diversity. Moving on to the competition law angle, the authors point out that, in order to ensure unimpeded economic competition that promotes the diversity of market players, competition law limits the scope with which such players may engage in economic activity. This chapter also underlines that media pluralism can help to safeguard the quality and “public value” of the information we receive. The fundamental right to freedom of expression is indeed inextricably linked to media pluralism.
Chapter three concentrates on the economic perspective of media pluralism a well as the new consequences of algorithmic media. The authors explain how tightly economic considerations such as the optimum supply of ideally targeted media content and the whole economy of advertising in the media are linked to and dependent on the use of algorithms which predict and ultimately dictate consumer behavior. Indeed the field of digital advertising has served as a sandbox for digital media to begin to understand how pluralism may be safeguarded in a world of algorithmic media. The authors state that “From a media plurality perspective, it is vital to prevent a division into data-rich and data-poor”. In other words, media providers which lack the capacity to build up data sets of information and the capacity to analyse and act on them will fail to attract advertising and so miss out on an important source of financing. In terms of policy making, policymakers and regulators can adopt standards, tools and best practices from within the media industry and improve their ability to understand the complex dynamics of the various markets. In order to do so, some financial regulators have entered public-private partnerships with “regulation tech” providers. 
Chapter four then moves on to the legal perspective of media pluralism. The authors explain how European and national law regulate media mergers and media concentration. They also look at the ways in which Europe can actively promote media diversity through EU state aid law. The current COVID-19 pandemic has indeed endangered media diversity as numerous media players have been threatened with extinction; voices lost. Many European countries have enacted support measures to counter this threat, and the report explores some of these. This chapter then rounds off with some reference points on possibilities for promoting and protecting media diversity in existing and future EU law. The authors explore and explain the European Electronic Communications Code, the relevant sections of the AVMSD and the current the P2B regulation as possible means of protecting media pluralism. They also touch in the regulation of data processing operations and the Digital Single Market Directive with respect to copyright.
This new publication then zooms in on individual countries, offering a report on 7 different EU countries and the UK. For each country, the authors explore national media concentration law and recent decisions by the responsible national authorities in this field.  They also look at the relationship between public service and private/commercial media. Funding mechanisms and other developments in the field of media diversity are also discussed.
A comparative analysis of the various national solutions rounds off this publication: media law provisions aimed at combating media concentration; general competition law provisions relating to competitive practices that are harmful to media markets; and positive measures designed to promote media pluralism.
The authors conclude that the particular context of the COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the relevance of support and funding programmes as a way of maintaining local, regional and even national services. One may assume that in the future, more measures will be taken than ever before to promote media pluralism – both financially and by creating greater transparency through new regulatory instruments, for example – and to supplement those that are already in place.