Section five of the Policy details the measures that the BAI takes, and will continue to take, to promote and support media pluralism in Ireland. While a wide range of the BAI’s activities could be considered to support media pluralism, this section identifies what are considered the key activities in the context of the definition of media plurality which references both diversity of ownership of media services and diversity of cultural content. The core activities are detailed under nine areas as follows:-
- The BAI Ownership and Control Policy;
- BAI’s Obligations under Media Mergers Legislation;
- Media Literacy;
- BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News & Current Affairs;
- Broadcasting Funding Scheme, including Sound and Vision and the BAI Archiving Policy;
- Irish Language Action Plan;
- Dialogue with Stakeholders.
The BAI will continue to undertake a range of measures with a view to meeting its statutory, strategic and policy obligations and commitments in respect of media plurality. The following measures and the means by which the BAI will support and promote media plurality are now detailed.
The principal mechanism by which the BAI supports and promotes media pluralism is via its licensing activities. The Broadcasting Act 2009 provides for the licensing of a range of radio and television services. This includes independent commercial and community radio and television services as well as temporary and institutional radio services. The licensing process is intended to complement and enhance existing and developing public service broadcasting services provided by RTÉ, TG4 and the Houses of the Oireachtas channel.
The licensing process is intended to promote diversity of content by seeking applications for programme services that will add to the range of media services currently available in the Irish State. Diversity of ownership is achieved by the licensing process via media ownership and control provisions set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009 and supplemented by the BAI Ownership and Control Policy.
The legislative framework, the BAI’s Ownership and Control Policy and its contracting processes facilitate and maintain the inclusion of obligations with regard to diverse political and cultural programme content, proportions of news and current affairs required and also local, national and European content to be broadcast.
They also support fair and diverse representation of, and expression by, local and regional communities;
Furthermore, the licensing process facilitates transparency in respect of media ownership and control in that information regarding shareholders, directors and membership of broadcast services (in the case of community media services) is publicly available.
The licensing approach of the BAI is centrally informed by the BAI Broadcasting Services Strategy. This Strategy is important in that it provides the framework for the formulation of licensing plans and associated activities of the BAI. A key objective of the Strategy is to support and foster plurality and diversity of content for Irish audiences via licensing and the Broadcasting Services Strategy sets out how the BAI will support and shape the development of the broadcasting sector.
2. BAI Ownership and Control Policy:
The BAI has in place a policy in respect of the ownership and control of licensed broadcasting services. This policy has been developed to give practical effect to the specific provisions of the Broadcasting Act 2009 which require the BAI to have regard to, as part of its licensing process, the ownership and control of applicants when determining the most suitable applicant for the award of a broadcasting contract. In addition, the BAI also applies the provisions of the policy in assessing ownership and control elements of applications for content provision and multiplex contracts and to assess requests for variations of ownership and control.
In the case of broadcasting services, the BAI will have regard to:-
- the desirability of allowing any person, or group of persons, to have control of, or substantial interests in, an undue amount of the Sound Broadcasting Services, in total or in a specified geographical area, and
- the desirability of allowing any person, or group of persons, to have control of, or substantial interests in the ‘communications media’ in a specified geographical area.
While the media market is indeed evolving, traditional broadcast media services remain essential for the protection of pluralism in the Irish State and the BAI’s Ownership and Control Policy is therefore a core mechanism for supporting and promoting media pluralism.
3. BAI’s Obligations under Media Mergers Legislation:
The Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 expanded the BAI’s plurality related role beyond the licensing and ownership and control measures set out above. The 2014 Act is concerned with ensuring that proposed media mergers that are notifiable to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment are approved only in instances where they will not be detrimental to media plurality.
Ensuring diversity of content and diversity of ownership are key considerations in a determination in this regard and the 2014 Act includes a number of new and additional functions and obligations on the BAI which are intended to support the Minister’s determination on a proposed merger. The key role is to provide, if requested, a report to the Minister setting out the BAI’s view as to whether a media merger is likely to be contrary to the public interest in protecting plurality of the media in the State.
In the context of the BAI’s obligations under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014, the BAI produces a number of reports on a periodic basis which are intended to inform the Authority, broadcasters, the public, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (as well as other relevant stakeholders) about media plurality in the State.
In the context of the 2014 Act, the BAI provides reports to the Minister every three years reviewing:-
- the impact of ownership changes on plurality: describing the ownership and control arrangements of media businesses;
- describing the changes to ownership; and
- analysing the effects of such changes on plurality of media in the State.
The first report was published by the BAI in 2015 and the second will be completed in the final quarter of 2018. The reports and corresponding database of ownership are intended to improve transparency in respect of the Irish media market.
A second key report on plurality supported by the BAI is the Reuters Institute Digital News Report (Ireland). The report is intended to support informed debate and evidence-based decision-making via the production of credible relevant data in respect of the consumption and impact of news services in Ireland. This report is particularly important given the central role that a broad diversity of views on news and current affairs is as an indicator and support for media plurality.
In the context of the BAI’s wider remit, market analysis research is regularly undertaken with a view to supporting its regulatory approaches and with a view to informing the public and other stakeholders about the market and market dynamics, including in the context of consultations on BAI regulatory proposals. This research provides essential contextual information for the BAI’s consideration of plurality.
 Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act 2009
5. Media Literacy:
The 2009 Act mandates the BAI to undertake, encourage and foster research, measures and activities which are directed towards the promotion of media literacy.
In order to further this mandate, the BAI Media Literacy Policy has been developed. This policy includes three core media literacy competencies and a set of associated skills and success indicators intended to assist organisations to shape media literacy activities, in line with their own strategic and business objectives. In particular, attaining the competencies will allow citizens to understand and critically evaluate broadcast, digital and other media content and services, in order to make informed choices and best manage media use. The competencies will also supports citizens to create and participate, via media, in a responsible, ethical and effective manner, in the creative, cultural and democratic aspects of society.
Media literacy is therefore key to empowering citizens with the skills and knowledge to critically understand how media works in a rapidly changing media environment, to interrogate the accuracy of information provided to audiences (in particular news and current affairs), to counter unfair and inaccurate representations, to challenge extremist views and, ultimately, to help citizens make better informed media choices.
6. BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News & Current Affairs:
The extent to which diverse views on news and current affairs are available is a key factor enabling a media environment that is pluralistic. Studies on sources of news and current affairs indicate that the traditional media system still has a significant role to play in the provision of news and current affairs. In an Irish context, citizens have relatively high levels of trust in Irish media sources with traditional news and current affairs sources more trusted than social media.
In terms of the BAI’s role, it has developed and applies its Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs. This sets out the journalistic standards that must be applied when broadcasters air this type of content and is a further tool that the BAI uses to promote and support media plurality. This is achieved by ensuring that minimum standards are in place to promote independent and impartial journalism that protects the interests of citizens in their right to have access to trusted and credible information. The Code will continue to play an important role in facilitating a mix of trusted and credible voices, opinions and sources of news and current affairs which enhance active citizenship and democratic debate.
7. Broadcasting Funding Scheme, including Sound and Vision and the BAI Archiving Policy:
The objectives of the BAI’s Sound and Vision Scheme include the development of high quality programming based on Irish culture, heritage and experience, including in the Irish language. A further objective is to develop programmes that represent the diversity of Irish culture and heritage, that facilitate the capturing of oral Irish heritage and aspects of Irish heritage which are disappearing or under threat. The BAI’s Archiving Scheme provides funding with the objective of supporting the development of an archiving culture in the Irish broadcasting sector which will contribute to the preservation of Ireland’s broadcasting heritage.
Taken together, the schemes support internal plurality by increasing the diversity of culturally relevant content available to Irish audiences and preserving cultural heritage in a way that is accessible on an ongoing basis to citizens. The Schemes give effect in particular to one of the four strategic objectives set out in the BAI’s Strategy Statement 2017-2019 in respect of promoting plurality.
Specifically, the objective which commits the BAI ‘to increase the production and availability of culturally relevant audio-visual content for Irish audiences.’
8. Irish Language Action Plan:
Fostering and promoting quality programming in the Irish language has been identified as an important objective for the BAI in the context of its Strategy Statement 2017-2019. This is appropriate given the culturally important role that the language plays in the expression of Irish cultural identity and its importance in ensuring the diverse representation of, and expression by, the various cultural and social groups in society.
This strategic objective is given effect by the BAI via the Broadcasting Funding Scheme and the BAI Irish language action plan which both support a broad diversity of cultural views and voices.
9. Dialogue with Stakeholders:
The BAI is committed in its current Strategy Statement to engaging with stakeholders with a view to promoting public debate and informing policy, including in the area of media plurality. The objective of this engagement is to facilitate a vibrant, dynamic media landscape.
In practice, the BAI engages on matters of media plurality on an ongoing basis at a national and European level. In an Irish context, this engagement involves the radio and television services that the BAI regulates, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Commission for Communications Regulation. Centrally, the BAI also engages with the Irish public, their political representatives and social and civil society in the form of ongoing consultations on areas relating to media plurality, and through the dissemination of its media plurality research outcomes.
At a European level, this includes its participation in EPRA, the Europe-wide association of audiovisual media service regulators and in ERGA (European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services), which has been established by the European Commission and has a formal advisory role in the preparation for the transposition of the recently updated Audiovisual Media Services Directive as well as its implementation.
Furthermore, the BAI also has an emerging relationship with social media platforms and services via its development and facilitation of Media Literacy Ireland, the Irish media literacy network.
Dialogue with stakeholders is considered by the BAI as a vital way for it to be both informed of, and to inform, public debate and policy on media plurality in Ireland.
The BAI will continue to undertake each of the above set of activities on a periodic basis. In addition, the BAI will retain an ongoing openness to undertaking additional measures to promote and support media plurality. This may include the production, on a more frequent basis, of reports detailing the ownership and control of media in Ireland as well as support for, and/or the development of, policy and other measures intended to enhance media plurality, in particular in terms of news, current affairs and cultural content.
 Reuters Institute (2018)