BBC to be Included in U.K. Media Plurality Debate

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The British government launched a consultation on the issue, which will also consider whether news web portals and social media should be part of the discussion.

LONDON – The U.K. government has called for a wide-ranging consultation on media plurality in the digital marketplace here and asked for the BBC to be included in the discussion this time around.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched on Tuesday a consultation document also pondering whether news web portals and social media, such as the Huffington Post, Google News, Facebook and Twitter, should be part of the debate.

The DCMS call came on the back of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendation that a clear measurement framework to evaluate how media plurality should be calculated in the digital age be set up.

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The 24-page booklet notes that the BBC is the biggest provider of news on TV, radio and the Internet.

The public broadcaster spent $661 million (£430 million) on news and current affairs in 2011, more than the rest of the U.K.'s broadcasters combined. It has never been included in a market plurality review.

"As a major player in the market, the BBC has a significant impact on the overall range and scale of provision," the DCMS said in the consultation. "As such, we consider that a measurement framework should assess the BBC's impact on plurality. [This is] distinct from the question of whether the BBC should be subject to any new plurality regulation."

The document asks: "Do you agree that the BBC’s impact on plurality should be assessed as part of a plurality review?"

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Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. long lobbied for the BBC to be included in any review of media plurality in the U.K., often referring to it as the elephant in the room when it comes to talk of a level playing field for competitors.

Existing U.K. media ownership rules only take into account newspapers, television and radio. As such, the consultation aims to look at whether digital-only businesses should be included in future reviews of plurality.

The consultation, open for submissions until October, also asks if it should include the impact of the websites of newspaper publishers, which could impact the "20/20" rule of media ownership.

The rule stops any person who owns a national newspaper group from holding more than 20 percent of a regional or national ITV service or Channel 5.

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As it stands a 20 percent threshold of national newspaper market share is based solely on print sales figures.

And people are also to be asked to consult on what genres of content should be concerned with media plurality.

It means sports, drama and light entertainment could wind up being consulted alongside the traditional news provision from providers.

And social media is to be part of the media plurality equation.

"Social media enables individuals and special interest groups to publicize their views and opinions more easily, and can be a first source of breaking news," the DCMS said. "For example, some major news stories in recent years, such as the American forces' raid on Osama bin Laden and the announcement of the royal wedding, were broken first on Twitter. It has also been argued that a tweet is more like a broadcast than an email and as a consequence is subject to the law of libel in the same way."