Empirical evidence shows that an important number of media outlets tend to bias information (Groseclose and Milyo, 2005; Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2010; Cagé, Hengel, Hervé and Urvoy, 2022), and that media slant can have large effects on voters’ behaviour and political outcomes (DellaVigna and Kaplan, 2007; Enikolopov, Petrova and Zhuravskaya, 2010; Martin and Yurukoglu, 2017), putting democracy itself at risk. Even so, very little is done to reduce media concentration.
Why is it so that the regulation of media ownership is so lax? A recurring argument consists in saying that each media company considered individually is only a “dwarf” in the international competition. Hence, international giants such as Netflix, Google or Amazon, are used as a justification for more concentration at the national level. While one should innovate such as to regulate these international giants, nothing is done neither to monitor them nor to ensure pluralism at the national level.
The need to rethink media regulation: Existing regulations were often introduced at a time where media competition was national and Internet did not exist. With competition stemming from social media and other platforms, the existing approach in terms of “market” is made obsolete.
Alternative approaches have been proposed, for example in terms of “media power” (Prat, 2018) but their legal transcription is still to be done. Further, the regulation of legacy media could not be considered independently of the one of the international platforms. Using an interdisciplinary approach, with both economists and lawyers, as well as regulatory agencies’ and guilds’ members, this network will think about optimal media concentration regulation for the 21st century and take into account the need for both “internal” and “external” pluralism, while relying on international experiences.
Further, the issue of media plurality cannot be considered independently of the one of the business models of the media. Indeed, given the cost structure of the media industry, the “market” may only support a few numbers of players, and we need to think both about the funding structure of the media outlets and their legal form.
Beyond the news media: The importance of “media plurality” is not limited to news media pluralism but should also cover the media industry understood in a broader sense, including the production of documentaries but also of fictions. We indeed observe today not only horizontal but also increasingly vertical concentration. While existing literature mostly focuses on journalists, directors – who produce reportage, documentaries, etc. – also suffer from media capture.
We think it is important to approach media plurality with a broad perspective given many challenges are identical. While in a number of countries, journalists benefit from specific rights, such regulation might for example be needed for other actors of the media industry.