Legal Protection of Media Pluralism at National Level. An Examination of the United Kingdom and Ireland

Date01 January 2010
Legal Protection of Media Pluralism at
National Level. An Examination of the
United Kingdom and Ireland
The current political line in the European Union is that the combination of
national legislation, EU competition law and EU legislative instruments
provides a perfect and balanced solution for the protection of both structural
and internal media pluralism in Europe.1As a result, the Audiovisual Media
Services (“AVMS”) Directive2contains very few specific provisions aimed
at counteracting growing media concentration in Europe. Vital concerns of
pluralism and diversity are primarily left to the Member States.
Meanwhile, media laws and, consequently, the levels of protection for
media pluralism vary hugely within the 27 EU Member States. A staggering
21 Member States do not have any special rules for media mergers.3Six4
have no specific media concentration rules whatsoever, and three5have very
limited media concentration rules. Ten Member States6have no cross-media
ownership rules,7ie rules prohibiting, for instance, owners of national
television stations from holding interests in national newspapers. Crucially,
in many Member States the rules, even if they are in place, are not being
observed (Italy is a prime example).
* LLB (Warsaw), LLM (A msterdam), PhD (Trinity College Dublin). I would like to
thank Dr Eoin O’Dell for his valuable comments. Any error remains my own.
1European Comm ission, ”Media Pluralism what should be t he European Union’s
role?”, (I ssues Paper for the Liverpool Audio visual Conference) July 2005, http:// docs/reg/modernisation/issue_papers/ispa_mediaplur_ en.pdf,
accessed 14 October 2009; European Commission, European Commission, “Services
of general interest (White Paper)”, COM(2004) 374 final.
2Directive 2007/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December
2007 amending Council Dir ective 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain
provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States
concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities (OJ L332/2007).
3Media specific compe tition law applies only in the United Kingdom, Irel and,
Germany and Austria.
4Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal.
5Sweden, Latvia, Luxembourg.
6Spain, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Finland,
Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg.
7Kevin, “Media ownership and pluralis m: regulatory trends and challenges in the
European Union Member States”, presentation at the 20th EPRA meeting, Istanbul
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Hallin and Mancini, in their seminal book Comparing Media Systems,
identify three basic models of media regulation in Europe: (i) the
Mediterranean or “Polarized Pluralist” model present in countries like France,
Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain; (ii) the Northern/Central European or
“Democratic Corporatist” model in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland,
Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden; and (iii) the North Atlantic or
“Liberal” model in the United Kingdom and Ireland.8Hallin and Mancini’s
book left post-Communist countries out of consideration, but there have
been voices suggesting that these countries’ media systems are closest to the
polarized-pluralist (“Mediterranean”) model.9
This article concentrates on media concentration laws in two EU
Member States belonging to the North Atlantic “Liberal” model: the United
Kingdom as one of the biggest, most influential, but also one of the most
liberal media markets in Europe; and Ireland as an example of a smaller
Member State heavily influenced by its bigger neighbour. Examples of the
application of the rules in practice are also provided with some comments
and conclusions regarding sufficiency of national legislation to prevent
growing cross-border media concentration.
Structure of the television markets
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has one of the largest media markets in Europe and
its television sector has undergone a significant change over the last 15 years.
However, what remained unchanged and unique about British television
broadcasting is that all terrestrial broadcasters have some form of public
service obligations.10 Initially there were only three terrestrial channels:
BBC1 and BBC2 provided by the BBC and Channel 3 provided by the
companies that comprised the ITV network. The BBC, with an audience
share of almost 38%, now has 2 national channels and a range of free
digital channels (a youth channel BBC3, BBC 4, BBC News 24, BBC
2004, pers/Media%20ownership%20
and%20pluralism%20Kevin%20Istanbul%20final.ppt, accessed 14 October 2008.
8Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems, (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
9See for instance Conference on Comparing Media Systems. West meets East, 23–25
April 2007, Wroclaw, Poland, http://www.zksid.politologia.uni.wro
lang=en, accessed 14 October 2009; Jakubowicz, “PSB in Post-communist Countries:
Finding the Rig ht Place on the Map”, the 2007 Spry Memorial Lecture, Montr eal,
27 November 2007, available at:,
accessed 14 October 2009.
10 Open Society Institute, “Television across Europe: regulation, policy and i nde -
pendence”, (Monitoring Report) 11 October 2005,
media/articles_ publications/publications/Eu rotv_20051011, accessed 14 October
2009, p 1605.
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