There are “dangerous levels of concentrated ownership” in the UK media, according to a new report which seeks to answer the question ‘who owns the news?’.
The “Who Owns the UK Media?” 2023 report, published by the Media Reform Coalition at Goldsmiths University, found that three companies – DMG Media, News UK and Reach – control 90% of the UK’s national newspaper market.
The analysis found that while the combined average circulation of UK national dailies fell by 6% between 2020 and 2022, Metro, owned by DMG, has since the last report in March 2021 joined the Daily Mail and News UK’s The Sun as leading titles in the national newspaper market by circulation, with each accounting for around one-fifth of the share of total daily circulation.
Report author Tom Chivers used average ABC circulation figures for 2022 and for publishers which keep their ABC secret (The Sun, Guardian, Times and Telegraph titles) he estimated their likely circulation based on trends and company statements.
The data suggests that if DMG Media were to succeed in its expected bid to acquire Telegraph Media Group it would increase its print market share from 42% to 47%.
DMG Media’s share of the online news market is estimated at around 10% looking at just the top-50 UK newsbrands.
The same three publishers control over 40% of the audience reach of the UK’s top 50 online newsbrands according to the Media Reform Coalition's analysis of Ipsos iris data in Press Gazette’s monthly round-up.
Reach’s digital newsbrands accounted for more than a fifth of total online reach, which was only slightly less than the combined share of newsbrands in the top 50 not owned by broadcasters or major publishers.
Their dominance of print and online news, said the report, gave the three publishers "an unrivalled position for setting the news agenda".
Chivers, researcher at the Media Reform Coalition, said: "A free, independent and plural media is essential to the functioning of a healthy democracy. However, these findings show that the UK media is dominated by a tiny handful of corporate media moguls and ‘big tech’ tycoons."
"Across our newspapers, TV channels, radio stations and online platforms, these companies hold a dangerous level of power to dictate our national conversation and influence the political agenda to favour their own interests."
"We need urgent reform to end the decades of failed regulation and political inaction on concentrated media ownership. Ofcom, Parliament and government must act to break up the dominant media companies, regulate the tech companies that profit off of UK audiences, and create new ownership and funding models to support independent public interest journalism."
The top publishers also accounted for the bulk of revenue as News Corp, DMG Media and Reach together brought in almost 70% of national publishing revenue among the leading names.
Local news also highly concentrated
The report found that over 71% of the UK’s 1,189 local newspapers are also owned by just six companies with the two largest, Reach and Newsquest, each accounting for a fifth of the local press market.
Reach and Newsquest’s share was bigger than that of the combined share of titles owned by the smallest 173 local publishers.
This increasingly concentrated ownership, said the report, "is worsening the collapse of media diversity and public interest journalism across the UK media". The study noted pointed to the particularly "rapid consolidation of the news industry" at the local and regional level.
Analysis by Press Gazette earlier this year found that consolidation has increased sharply in the local press in the last five years.
The report acknowledged that while ongoing local print closures have been met by new title launches, many of these new launches concern titles that were relaunched after being previously shut down or were consolidations of smaller local editions. Reach and National World, said the report, accounted for over half of new digital launches, most of which were 'hub' websites such as Reach’s network of Live sites which serve larger areas.
Tech platforms dominate
When it comes to the tech platforms’ role as gatekeepers to news, the research found that ten of the top 15 online platforms used by UK audiences to access news were owned by Facebook owner Meta, Google parent Alphabet and Elon Musk’s X Corp which owns X (formerly known as Twitter). According to Ipsos and Ofcom, 64% of the UK public use such 'online intermediaries' to access news.
Their dominance - including of advertising spend - has "merely entrenched the market reach and influence of traditionally dominant newspapers and broadcasters" through their algorithms, the report said.
While they still account for the bulk of traffic, major publishers including Reach have however recently stated that changes to the Facebook algorithm have impacted their traffic.
In its half-year results for 2023 Reach said that changes by Facebook owner Meta had contributed in large part to a 16% drop in page views following its strategic decision to reduce the visibility of news on the platform. This trend has continued in Q3, Reach said this week, resulting in page views down 21% year-on-year for the first nine months of 2023.
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