The Ofcom review of Local Media in the UK, while broad in its aims to assess and understand the evolving landscape of local media, raises concerns regarding the clarity of stakeholder engagement. Specifically, there is a notable lack of detail about which stakeholder groups, public bodies, civic society organisations, and community groups will be invited to contribute to the discourse on local media.
This ambiguity poses several issues:
- Representation and Inclusivity: Without clear information on the stakeholders involved, there is a risk of under-representation or exclusion of critical voices from diverse sectors of society. This could potentially lead to an incomplete understanding of the local media landscape and its impact on different community segments.
- Transparency and Accountability: The absence of explicit details about the involved parties may lead to questions about the transparency of the review process. For a review of such significance, it is essential that the process be as open and accountable as possible to garner trust and credibility.
- Effectiveness of the Review: The effectiveness of the review hinges on the breadth and depth of input from a diverse range of stakeholders. Without clarity on who these contributors are, there might be uncertainties regarding the comprehensiveness of the findings and recommendations.
Given the vital role of local media in supporting democracy, community cohesion, and public engagement, it is imperative that Ofcom to provide clear and detailed information on the range of stakeholders that will be engaged in this review. This clarity will not only enhance the review’s effectiveness but also ensure that it truly reflects the diverse voices and needs of the UK’s local communities.
Ofcom’s Terms of Reference: Local Media Review, indicates that as part of their research, they aim to explore what makes something ‘feel’ local. This suggests a focus on understanding the elements and characteristics that contribute to the perception of localness in media. However, the terms of reference does not provide a specific definition of ‘local’ or ‘localness’, only indicating that future research will delve into understanding these concepts, particularly how they are perceived and represented in relation to different media platforms.
The terms-of-reference emphasises the vital role of local media in informing the public and fostering community engagement. It notes the shift towards online consumption of local news and the challenges this poses for traditional media outlets. The review covers the evolving landscape of regional news bulletins, local TV channels, local radio, and print and online news outlets. Ofcom is therefore conducting research to understand audience needs better and assess the impact of these changes on local media provision. The document outlines the current state and future for local media, including the BBC’s transformation of its local services and the broader challenges and opportunities within the sector.
Ofcom notes the significance of local media in the UK, emphasising that local media plays an essential role in the lives of consumers and citizens. Key aspects of this importance include:
- Providing News and Information: Local media offers crucial news and information about events and developments in local areas.
- Building Social Cohesion and Engagement: By focusing on local issues and stories, local media helps in fostering a sense of community and engagement among people in these areas.
- Supporting Local Democracy: Local media contributes to the democratic process by informing citizens about local governance, policies, and elections, thereby enabling them to make informed decisions.
The review also notes the challenges faced by local media due to the increasing shift of audiences towards online sources for local news and information. Ofcom will examine a variety of media forms, including:
- Regional news bulletins and local TV channels: Focusing on television media that provides local news and information.
- Local radio: Covering radio stations that cater to local areas with news, music, and other content relevant to those communities.
- Local and regional print and online news outlets: This encompasses traditional print media like newspapers and magazines, as well as their online counterparts, which are increasingly significant in the digital age.
These forms of media are key in providing news and information about local areas, fostering community engagement, and supporting local democracy, especially as more people turn to online sources for local news and information.
Ofcom is employing a range of research methodologies to examine the value of local media. These include:
- Building on Previous Research: Integrating existing data from previous studies, ongoing trackers, and industry data.
- Commissioning Primary Research: Conducting new research to explore audience motivations and the decision-making process behind the selection of local media providers.
The key areas of focus that the research will examine, includes:
- Attitudes and Perception: Understanding audience expectations of local media, how well these are being met, and the impact of changes in the sector.
- Trust: Exploring what makes providers trustworthy, how perceptions vary between different providers, and how trust influences audience expectations.
- Representation and Portrayal: Investigating what elements make something feel local.
Community media is referenced in Ofcom’s research into the value of local media. However, the terms-of-reference indicates that Ofcom will not be specifically looking at the level of specific local media provision, including community radio services, but will include this in a view that is evolving as audiences consume more information online. This suggests that community media forms a part of the broader scope of their research, especially in understanding the value local media delivers to consumers and wider society, such as:
- Assessing the Impact of Digitalisation: The review will address the significant challenges that local media faces due to the shift towards digital consumption.
- Understanding Audience Needs: By exploring audience motivations and preferences, the review seeks to grasp how local media meets the needs and expectations of its consumers.
- Evaluating the Social Value of Local Media: Central to the review is the assessment of the social value that local media brings, including its role in building community engagement, fostering social cohesion, and supporting local democracy.
It’s concerning that Ofcom has not linked this review with the Levelling-Up agenda of the government, or the existing framework of social value and devolutions. The participation of civic, social, and community organisations in this review, then, is both necessary and significant for several reasons:
- Diverse Perspectives: These groups provide varied perspectives and insights, ensuring a holistic view of the local media landscape.
- Representation of Community Interests: Their contributions help ensure that the interests and concerns of different community segments are adequately represented.
- Enhancing Local Relevance: Input from these organisations can highlight what makes media ‘feel’ local, aiding in the understanding of localness in media.
- Supporting Informed Policymaking: Their involvement is crucial for informed regulatory decisions and policymaking, especially regarding the BBC’s local services and other local media provisions.
In light of the ongoing review of Local Media by Ofcom, there is an important consideration that warrants attention. Given the obligations under the Equality Act 2010, it is pertinent to inquire whether Ofcom plans to undertake and subsequently publish an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) as part of this comprehensive review.
The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on public bodies to consider how their policies, programs, and practices might affect people differently, especially in terms of protected characteristics like age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Conducting an EIA is a key step in fulfilling this duty, ensuring that decisions are fair, transparent, and inclusive.
An Equality Impact Assessment would serve several critical purposes in the context of the Local Media review:
Ensuring Inclusivity and Fairness: It would help in identifying any potential adverse impacts of the review’s findings and recommendations on different groups, thereby ensuring that the outcomes are inclusive and equitable.
Guiding Policy Development: The insights gained from the EIA could inform the development of policies and practices that not only respect diversity but also actively promote equality within the realm of local media.
Enhancing Public Trust: Publishing the EIA would demonstrate Ofcom’s commitment to equality and transparency, potentially increasing public trust in the review process and its outcomes.
Given these considerations, it is crucial to ask if Ofcom has plans to integrate an Equality Impact Assessment into their review of Local Media, and if they will make this assessment available to the public. This would align with the principles of equality and fairness as stipulated in the Equality Act 2010, and it would significantly contribute to the review’s integrity and effectiveness.
Overall, the Ofcom review seeks to create a comprehensive picture of local media’s role and value in the UK, and the contributions from public sector, civic society and community organisations must be regarded as integral to achieving a thorough and effective understanding of local needs, from the ground-up, not from the top-down as Ofcom is proposing.