Publication Date: May 2019
Research and Editorial Team: Marius Dragomir, Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS)
Media Capture in Europe

Being the term ‘media capture’ relatively new, the study tries to conceptualise this widespread issue, starting from the definition proposed by Mungiu-Pippidi - “a situation in which the media have not succeeded in becoming autonomous in manifesting a will of their own, nor able to exercise their main function, notably of informing people (...)”-  and identifying, then, a more practical use of the concept.

Furthermore, following Corduneanu-Huci and Hamilton’s approach, the study presents a useful model to determine the intensity of media capture in a given national context. Considering this phenomenon as “a process with its own intensity scale consisting of higher or lower levels of control”, it proposes 4 components that can be used as a tool to analyse the jeopardy of a particular situation. Still, the research presents these components using several examples, taken, in particular, from Hungary and Czech Republic as representative case studies.

  1. Regulatory Capture: it refers to the government control of national regulators, divided in broadcast and competition authorities; for example, the author reports the case of the Czech antitrust watchdog (UOHS) led by Petr Rafaj.
  2. Control of Public Service Media: this generally depends, at least in Eastern Europe, on the failed process of reform of former state media into public service media; in Hungary, for example, “the public broadcaster MTVA operates as a government body rather than an independent institution”.
  3. Use of State financing as a control tool: as for state funding, there are four main categories of financial strategies used to control media. Namely: i) Public funding for state-administered media; ii) State advertising (“the most insidious form of government funding in the media”); iii) State subsidies; iv) Market-disruption measures.
  4. Ownership takeover: during the past decade the media market has been impacted by a new class of media owners, predominantly domestic, closely linked with political parties or interest groups. Hungary, according to the document, best illustrates this collusion: as reported by the author, “since 2010, a total of 400 media outlets were taken over by a group of oligarchs supportive of Prime Minister Orbán and his party, Fidesz”.

 

In this context, the report highlights a number of interconnected factors that unveil the complex and multifaceted nature of media capture:

  • the failed reform of the Public Service Media provoked the proliferation of new media financed through loans from state-controlled banks or capital from unknown sources;
  • these new emerging media have expanded rapidly into media cartels dominated by oligarchs;
  • the phenomenon is having the most disruptive effects in transitional areas, such as Eastern Europe;
  • the involvement of the private sector distinguishes media capture from other forms of government control of the media;
  • media capture has a crossboarding nature, and seems to be related to the rise of right-wing parties.

Concluding, the author underlines the difficulties in finding policy solutions, “as policymaking and regulation are part of the problem (they are a cog in the media capture wheel)”. “Hence”, he states, “the only solution lies in direct intervention: renewed and much larger investments in independent news outlets, with a focus on new, more disruptive forms and formats of critical journalism able to better reach and engage large audiences”.

Tags: Media_Capture Freedom_of_expression Media_freedom Media_ownership Media_pluralism Hungary Czech_Republic

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