Guest blog post by the Media Reform Coalition
This new report highlights the dangerous levels of concentrated ownership across the UK’s national and local press, in TV and radio broadcasting, streaming services and online platforms.
Just three companies – DMG Media (publishers of the Daily Mail, Metro and i), News UK (the Sun and The Times) and Reach (Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star) – dominate 90% of national newspaper circulation. These same three companies account for more than 40% of the total audience reach of the UK’s top 50 online newsbrands, giving a handful of dominant publishers an unrivalled position for setting the news agenda across print, broadcast and online formats.
71% of the UK’s 1,189 local newspapers (including print and online-only titles) are owned by just six companies. Newsquest and Reach, the two largest companies, each control a fifth of the local press market – more than the combined share of the smallest 173 local publishers combined. Local journalism is in peril, as decades of corporate cuts, closures and consolidations have left the sector more concentrated and less locally-embedded than ever. Using data from the Local News Map project by PINF, the Public Interest News Foundation, we estimate that 11.5 million people (17.5% of the UK population) live in news ‘deserts’ or ‘droughts’.
The report also demonstrates the dominant role that a handful of ‘Big Tech’ companies play in how people access and engage with content in the online media environment. 10 of the top 15 online platforms used to access news in the UK are owned by Meta, Alphabet and X Corp (owners of X/Twitter). Meta (owners of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) and Google command around four-fifths of all online advertising spend, giving these two tech giants unparalleled power over how online news is found and funded. Worse still, these platforms have not helped to diversify the supply of news online, but instead are entrenching the market reach and influence of the same newspapers and broadcasters that dominant the ‘offline’ media market.
UK broadcasting faces similarly dangerous levels of corporate concentration, cost-cutting and loose commitments to regulatory standards. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ account for 80% of all UK video-on-demand subscriptions. While Sky TV still dominates the pay-TV market with 9.1 million customers, twice as many households subscribe to at least one streaming service – with Netflix making up almost two-fifths of all combined subscriptions.
Although the BBC remains the dominant player across TV and radio, its founding public service mission has been further undermined by licence fee freezes, political interference and a questionable strategy to fund its digital future. The Corporation has made hugely damaging cuts to its highly valued local and regional radio output, and as public trust in the BBC falls precipitously the new opinion-led channels GB News and TalkTV regularly exploit Ofcom’s light-touch approach to regulating basic standards of accuracy, impartiality and public interest reporting.
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.
As an election year looms, which political party will be brave enough put genuine democratic media reform at the heart of its manifesto?