Newsocracy III – The Perils of Concentration

In the shadow of the headlines around fake news online, is a much older debate about media pluralism. Netopia went to a conference about just this and discovered the two are connected. Perils of concentration in legacy media are multiplied on the online digital platforms that exert extreme control of the global public sphere. Is there a hope of a better tomorrow?

In European media ownership there is a concentration of control which is working against a pluralistic and transparent media market, according to latest data by the Media Pluralism Monitor, who report that in two-thirds of European countries fewer than four owners hold 80 percent of the media.

Set against this data, media ownership concentration in Spain and Europe was the focus of Newsocracy III, a conference that brought together policy makers, academics, journalists, citizens and championed initiatives for transparency of media ownership.

Netopia joined the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and covered the event from Madrid on January 30, 2018.

In his opening remarks, ECPMF Managing Director, Dr Lutz Kinkel clarified what is meant by media plurality: “It’s about the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few.”

“In two thirds of European countries, less than four owners control 80% of the media.

“For instance, In Estonia the market is split between two factions, split in the middle by the public service broadcaster and private media companies, supplying a a population of 1.4m. So this is a low-risk country. However, there’s a totally difference situation in Bulgaria where one oligarch is controlling 80% of the media market. This is played out with a majority of the media outlets backing the government narrative. What we need in Europe is valid public data about media ownership, readers need to know who outputs media to maintain media diversity.”

MEDIA PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IN EUROPE

It’s not enough to focus on traditional media, it’s far more complicated, we have platforms, social media and device manufacturers that have giant effects on our decisions [via algorithms]

Dr Joan Barata in the opening keynote outlined four broad points: that it’s not about competition: It’s about protection. That more transparency of media ownership is needed. That public service is still very important and that more than ever, regulators must be free to regulate.

Baras emphasised: “It’s not enough to focus on traditional media, it’s far more complicated, we have platforms, social media and device manufacturers that have giant effects on our decisions [via algorithms]. It’s about how the platforms, privately owned, are addressed and the problems that they cause; in elections for example.”

TOOLS, TRANSPARENCY & TRADE-OFFS

Media Pluralism: Innovations and Challenges was the title for the second session of the day.

PDLI, Yolanda Quintana, General Secretary and coordinator, Plataforma en Defensa de la Libertad de Información (PDLI), opened the debate said, “Technology is changing, allowing for tracking and distribution which make it more difficult to know who is behind the media. But there are new tools to allow us to dig into this and meet the challenge of the new business models that are expending the panorama.”

One of these tools presented came from Ingoberhack’s Ana & Ricardo. Their tool connects the nodes within data that shows who owns the media, annotating where the money moves flows exist in ownership transactions.

Throughout the day the debate flitted between; who owns the media; and how to gain transparency. The threat to media pluralism from platforms; and an unhealthy divide between editorial and advertisers.

“When people have concentrated power, it has consequences for the quality of information and plurality of voices,” Vice Editor-in-Chief and co-founder, eldiario.es Juan Luis Sanchez concedes.

“If we try to compete with them [the platforms] we are going to lose, because entertaining people is always going to win over fact-based information which is less attractive. We need new models other than those that keep attention; those that create relationships.

“And If you don’t pay for journalists they will have to resort to other avenues, so the paywall is a partnership.

“It’s going beyond a ‘we have the information but if you pay we’ll let you in’; because a paywall creates the start of a relationship.”

Mar Carbara from, the George Soros funded, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), commented on problems of attaining backing for what is seen as altruistic journalism, or that journalism is a charity when publicly funded, a la PBS  in USA.

Foundations have costs, funding and people must get paid. It’s not all ‘free’

In Spain, the culture of giving goes towards large international charities, not investigative journalism.

Carbara emphasised the need for quality, funded journalism. “Foundations have costs, funding and people must get paid. It’s not all ‘free’.”

“We worked on the Panama Papers for a year, cost us our entire budget of €2m, with five full-time journalists. “

In Turkey, it is not funding that curtails journalism, it is government intervention which was the message Banu Guven sent from Istanbul. Her statement read: “The [Turkish] government gave fifteen-point instruction to news outlets about reporting on war with Kurds. Nowadays taking an anti-war stance may bring about jail. Turkish journalists need solidarity.”

CURRENT MALAISE WITHIN MEDIA PLURALISM

Session three panel focused on Political Independence: Perspectives of Regulators, Media owners and Journalists.

Ricardo Gutierrez, from the European Federation of Journalism (EFJ) made the point that quality journalism is under stress in Spain. Journalists earn, Euro 1500 per month payment, and one third of all Journos in Europe are now freelance – newsrooms hollowed out leads to a negatively impact on the quality of output and the journalists’ role and profession.

Bulgarian publisher, Ivo Prokopiev from Econmedia was clear on his assessment of the current media landscape in Europe.

“The business model for media is broken and broken for good. It won’t be fixed. There is a global monopoly, global utilities.

“The business model for media is broken and broken for good. It won’t be fixed.

“In 2016, digital advertising was Google with 47% and Facebook with 40%, and I bet in 2017 it will be well above 90% in display advertising.

“There is a global monopoly, global utilities.

“I don’t think the regulation will resolve the issue. GDPR and copyright protection might limit them a bit, but that’s not going to be the end solution for traditional media.

“There are two strands to media: users and advertisers but Google and Facebook control both sides of the coin.

“The old business model is done, and it’s impossible to be repaired with old models we had in mind.

“Through financial weakness, media is an easy prey for politicians.  And if independent media is less than 25% in a nation there is no price to pay for the political establishment from scrutiny.”

With such a stellar representation of views and backgrounds it was to be expected that the core topic in discussions during the latter part of the day would naturally widen, for example how there are blurred lines between finance and advertising in media. Plus, how the industry can seek a new independence from monopolistic platforms.

In closing Dr Lutz reiterated his demands, that, firstly journalism is a public good, and secondly, we must make quality journalism, and find ways to make good journalism possible.

To that challenge: vamos!

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