The findings presented by Lisa George, economist at Hunter College, New York, are quite surprising: In her study on the effects of ownership concentration on product diversity, the variety of topics and opinions provided by different media companies, she found – quite in contrast to widely-held beliefs – that journalistic diversity might actually increase in the wake of media mergers.
She did so by showing that media houses tend to reposition the publications they have taken over by offering new content, targeting new groups of readers and, above all, by making sure that the newly-owned publications rather supplement the existing product range than duplicate it. By doing so, George claims, those companies create more journalistic diversity, not less.
Subsequently, a media policy that aims at preserving the largest possible number of print media and media companies is not always in the best interest of readers. However, while this all sounds economically convincing, the study doesn’t address one important issue – the diversity of opinion, especially in cases where the interests of media owners are affected. For if those owners have political ambitions – as in the case of Italy’s Berlusconi – or if they consider their own company’s existence in jeopardy – as when the German publishing house Springer intervened in the country’s current debate on minimum wages – diversity may quickly turn into its opposite, and transform “independent newsrooms”, in an act of self-censoring obedience, into branches of their companies’ in-house PR departments…
Reference: Lisa George: “What’s fit to print: The effect of ownership concentration on product variety in daily newspaper markets.” In: Information Economics and Policy, 19 (2007), pp. 285-303.
Translation: Oliver Heinemann