United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has recently removed almost all of its specific mono- and cross-media ownership restrictions, relying instead on a “media plurality test” incorporated into the Enterprise Act 2002. The test has been at the centre of two controversial acquisition and merger applications over the last few years, the most recent being the attempt by News Corporation, with major holdings in UK newspapers the Sun, Sunday Times and the Times, to take complete control of satellite pay-tv broadcaster BSkyB. The test has been criticised both because of the central role played by government in the process and because of uncertainty as to the criteria to be applied to determine whether there is a “sufficient plurality of owners”, particularly in a cross-media context. For those reasons the Coalition Government has indicated that media ownership rules will be reviewed as part of the lead up to a new Communications Act. There is thus considerable interest in the UK in exploring alternative mechanisms for assessing and controlling media ownership concentration. In October 2011, Ofcom was invited by Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, to assess how practical it would be to set limits on media ownership to protect plurality. He also asked Ofcom to recommend a framework for measuring plurality across different media. Ofcom’s report is expected by the end of June 2012.

Written by Professor Dr Rachel Craufurd Smith, Edinburgh University (UK)


Owing mainly to the limited size of the market the Belgium media landscape is highly concentrated, characterised by a high level of cross-media ownership. A limited number of media groups are active in the northern (Dutch speaking) and/or southern (French speaking) halves of the country, and most of them have developed activities in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and the web. Given the nature of Belgium society – a multi-lingual, multi-cultural society with a large international community in the capital region and considerable immigrant population all around the country – media pluralism and content diversity are important. Both the Flemish Media Regulator in Flanders and the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel in Wallonia monitor media concentration trends, but their powers to act remain limited either because of a lack of mandate or reasons of territorial jurisdiction. The debate on media pluralism has recently resurfaced after the take-over of the SBS/ProSiebenSat 1 channels, VT4 and VijfTV by “ De Vijver” a holding company owned by Corelio (publisher of popular newspapers like Het Nieuwsblad and De Standaard, and also active in regional TV), Sanoma (publishers of popular magazines like Story and Humo) and Wouter Vandenhaute/Erik Watte (of the successful production house Woestijnvis).

Written by Professor Dr Peggy Valcke, University of Leuven and University of Brussels (Belgium)


In German constitutional case law, the prohibition of a dominant and prevailing power to form public opinion and the foreclosure of any information monopoly is well developed. For example, the law provides for an independent body with the discretionary power to scrutinize mergers of private broadcasters, or private broadcasters with other media related companies (cross‐media mergers). Secondly, private press and broadcasting operators are subject to national cartel prohibitions based on economic proprieties. Despite the clarity of this regime, several aspects could be improved. The media concentration law was shaped in order to allow the two largest private broadcasters to retain their position and thus legalising the oligopoly. It renders the options to curb concentration almost irrelevant on the private broadcasting market because the ceiling will not be reached in practice. Although in cross‐media compositions it proved to be efficient. Furthermore, new media services – online content – are not taken sufficiently into account. Bearing in mind the increasing importance of online services of journalistic content, an overarching platform concentration law could be envisaged on a European level addressing information monopolies, especially in cases of Europe wide active media organisations or internationally produced content. Provided with market relevant margins and a practical wording in the legislation, such rules could guarantee free and independent media and thus a plurality of opinions.

Written by Dr Sebastian Muller, University of Bielefeld (Germany)


The Romanian media market is the result of organic growth rather than of a strategized one, therefore it is populous and judging by the titles, diverse. There is no tradition in transparency of ownership; only for radio and TV companies transparency obligations are imposed by law. The Broadcast law supports pluralism of opinions and cultural diversity by limiting ownership and audience concentration to levels preventing undue influence on public opinion, without threatening economic efficiency. Criteria used are the shares one entity holds in a broadcast medium and the audience rate of the news, debates and current affairs programs broadcast by the said medium. The influence on public opinion of an entity – legal or natural – is assumed if it controls more than 20% of the shares of a medium. An entity is considered to hold a dominant position if the weighted average of its influence on public opinion is 30%. Both the shares held by a person and by his family members on a “relevant market” – defined as national, regional and/or local, based on the type of licence the medium holds – are taken into account. There is no provision regarding the limitation of ownership in other types of media or cross-ownership, which led to the concentration of the real influencing power in a number of media hubs, some of them linked to political or business actors.

Written by Ioana Avadani, Director of the Center for Independent Journalism (Romania)


In Poland, three aspects of media pluralism deserve attention. First, media ownership concentration has been traditionally covered by a competition law, not by media specific regulations. Nevertheless, the National Broadcasting Council holds certain competences to monitor and assess ownership changes in the sector of broadcasting. While competition law offers certain possibilities to prevent monomedia concentration (if this leads to a dominant position on a relevant market), it is questionable how the rules can be used in a rapidly changing cross media and multi-channel environment. Secondly, certain media sectors have been severely affected by media consolidation. The ownership pattern on the local and regional press market has formed a duopoly, that led to repeated takeovers and newspaper closures. As a result, since the last 15 years, circulation and sales of regional and local press has significantly decreased. At the same time, a more diversified ownership structure on the national newspaper market resulted in more stable circulation figures. Thirdly, Public Service Media serving as an institutional extension of sectoral media pluralism, have been gradually losing their significant position, especially on the television market. This trend of the weakening the PSM position has been partly affected by unsuccessful regulatory efforts, political pressures and a heavy dependence on commercial sources of financing.

Written by Beata Klimkiewicz, assistant professor at the Institute of Journalism and Social Communication, Jagiellonian University, Krakow (Poland)


In Hungary, a new and controversial new media law has been introduced which can adversely affect media pluralism in different ways. First, the new law grants broad and unprecedented powers to a newly converged regulatory agency the independence of which is granted by statute but may not be real. Under the new media law’s scope all media outlets including internet content services have to be registered with the authority. Second, the provisions on preventing cross-ownership in national print and audiovisual media has been abolished while other media concentration controls continue to apply. Moreover, recent transformation of public service broadcasting created a new and rather centralised system of governance which causes concerns about internal media pluralism. For example, there is now one national public news agency which caters for all the public service television and radio news programmes thereby replacing the formerly in-house news rooms.

Written by Dr Kristina Irion, assistant Professor at the Department of Public Policy Central European University, Budapest (Hungary)

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a country with minimum ownership restrictions in the media industry. There is no limit on foreign participation in media. The only limit on cross-ownership in the Czech media was enacted by the Broadcasting Act NO 231/2001 for analogue broadcasting (one company should operate only one radio or one TV national network) and by the amendment of Broadcasting Act No 236/2006 for digital broadcasting (one company shall hold only two nation-wide general programming radio or TV services, number of thematic channels is not limited). Because the Czech Office for Protection of Competition considers all mass media a single market, no broadcaster or media company has a dominant position on the relevant market. The print media sector is characterized by vertical concentration, with the main newspaper publisher owning printing plants and controllling the press distribution system. Also the radio and television markets are highly concentrated, with only a limited number of significant players. A major challenge for media pluralism and content diversity is the limited size of the market. This small market size tends to drive all media towards entertainment (which the media owners consider a guarantee for higher profits), than quality journalism. In the light of this situation, the existence of independent public service media is essential for preserving media pluralism.

Written by Professor Milan Smid, Charles University, Prague (Czech Republic)


The specific model of privatisation of state ownership in Slovenia in the early 1990s enabled the State to play important role in ownership structure of the media for almost two decades after the break from socialism resulted in media stakes being subject of non transparent and politically motivated trade and ended up in various forms of media concentration. Media regulation seems thorough and restrictive, but regulatory bodies have not enough capacity and autonomy to apply it. The dominant media groups in both print and broadcasting have recently been the subject of investigation and decisions by antimonopoly bodies, but with no efficient outcome. The latest attempts by the government in 2010 and 2011 to introduce media reforms through two new media laws, including additional safeguards for media plurality and more restrictive measures in the field of media concentration failed because of lack of political consensus.

Written by Brankica Petkovic, Head of the Centre for Media Policy at the Peace Institute, Ljubljana (Slovenia)


The main issues in Malta are that the composition of the Broadcasting Authority, the members of which are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister after the Prime Minister consults the Leader of the Opposition. The onus of most decision rests on the Chairman as the Authority is made up of four people, two from each side of the political camps represented in Parliament. The irony is that both parties in Parliament also own TV stations. That is not to say there are not members who take decisions based on their own conscience. But doubts have also been cast about whether there have been cases that some members were acting on party lines. Though Broadcasting legislation in Malta stipulates that each station should be balanced in its political and controversial content, the Authority effectively feels that the political stations balance each other out, even though surveys show that one has much more audience than the other. Another issue is the development of web portals, which are virtually unregulated. Hence TV is also competing with the web, which does not have any of the shackles which are attached to TV.

Written by Natolino Fenech, Head of TV Malta


Regarding external pluralism, Spain has recently liberalized its older broadcasting regulation with a new General Audiovisual Law 7/2010, which removed some limits on broadcasting ownership and adopted a new system based on audience limits to avoid any dangerous media concentration. The new regulation, even if retained the principle whereby a corporate or physical person directly or indirectly holding 5% or more of the share capital or voting rights of a broadcasting license-holder cannot have a significant shareholding in any other company within the same coverage area, establishes an important exception for national broadcasting license-holders: they are allowed to hold various and simultaneous shares in several national television stations as a result of a merger, so long as their average audience is no higher than 27% of the total audience over the 12 consecutive months prior to an acquisition. The percentage figure was carefully chosen because it only prevented a merger between the two dominant commercial operators in Spain: Tele5 and Antena 3. As a consequence of this regulation, the highs levels of external pluralism achieved with the DTT development has been reduced with the merger between TV channel Cuatro and Mediaset’s Tele5 in December 2010 and Antena 3 and La Sexta in December 2011. Regarding internal pluralism, Spanish parties have not achieved an agreement to establish the Spanish audiovisual independent authority, even if the law before mentioned established its functions, name (CEMA) and structure. Therefore, there is no independent body to monitor internal media pluralism in Spain.

Written by Professor Dr Carles Llorens, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain)