| Publications | Policy Briefs | Monitoring opinion power: A new approach to ensure diverse opinion formation in the platform age

Monitoring opinion power: A new approach to ensure diverse opinion formation in the platform age

Prof. Dr. Birgit Stark Department of Journalism | JGU Mainz
Prof. Dr. Carsten Reinemann Director of the Department of Media and Communication | Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich
Lisa Zieringer M.A. Department of Media and Communication | Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich
Daniel Stegmann M.A. Department of Communication | JGU Mainz

The digital transformation process poses new challenges for the control of opinion power: The bidt and BLM-funded consortium project “Measuring opinion power and diversity on the Internet” ties in with the debate that has been going on in media policy for years about reforming the protection of diversity and the control of power of opinion. This policy brief shows new ways of how contemporary opinion power monitoring can look like and outlines the need for action in terms of media policy.

The policy brief was published in cooperation with the Bavarian Regulatory Authority for New Media (BLM).

The key points in a nutshell

The German model for ensuring diversity of opinion in the media and preventing one-sided media power in the area of privately organised media is no longer up to date – and has been for over two decades. The current measurement of opinion power and the associated control of “dominant” opinion power has long been criticised.

The central problem is that no systematic empirical findings on the power of opinion of providers are yet available for the German discourse, in particular because the infrastructure for long-term analyses for the continuous monitoring of media change has so far been patchy. Due to this lack, there is also a lack of systematic surveys that provide empirical evidence for evaluating important legislative proposals for media policy.

The monitoring proposed here, which consists of a combination of different empirical methods, can close this gap. As a source for media professionals, executives from politics and business, academia and especially media policy, the monitoring creates a valid data basis for evaluating the opportunities and risks of changing opinion-forming processes. The set of instruments developed in a kind of modular system is therefore intended to serve as a seismograph for potential risks in the opinion-forming process and, as soon as a need for action arises, to guide concrete measures.


According to the current legal situation, television receives special attention when it comes to ensuring diversity of opinion in the private media sector. The most important measure for safeguarding diversity in television is the prevention of provider concentration (passive safeguarding of diversity). The urgency of amending television-centred diversity protection is repeatedly emphasised. However, the search for precise rules on which mergers in media-convergent worlds can jeopardise the formation of opinion has so far been unsuccessful.

This policy brief is based on the assumption that (one-sided) media power of opinion can jeopardise the free formation of individual and public opinion by citizens. The starting point of the considerations is therefore the question of how media power of opinion can be validly measured and made socially transparent. The authors are of the opinion that the empirical measurement of media power of opinion should ideally combine a holistic view of media supply, media use and media effects. This is the central approach of the monitoring concept, as this is the only way to obtain a valid picture of media power of opinion in the overall picture. Monitoring can be used, for example, to identify possible restrictions on diversity on both the supply and usage side. If both dimensions of analysis are combined, potential threats in the sense of the fragmentation or polarisation thesis can also be evaluated.

In order to be able to determine media power of opinion in the sense described above in a valid, continuous manner and with a justifiable use of resources, a series of conceptual and empirical fundamental decisions are necessary that represent a fundamental departure from previous ideas and procedures of media concentration control. It is therefore about nothing less than a paradigm shift in the safeguarding of diverse opinion-forming through the media. The most important of these fundamental decisions are:

A consideration of the entire media usage repertoire, i.e. a departure from the previous fixation on (linear) television, as this no longer corresponds to the realities of today’s media usage. A renunciation of the weighting of different media types in the measurement of opinion power potential according to their supposed impact potential, as such a weighting cannot be adequately justified on the basis of available knowledge. A focus on media brands instead of media genres whose opinion power potential is determined across all genres (cross-media), as media brands (including online platforms) are the decisive level of analysis for media selection, content and effects. A focus on the political public sphere or current reporting and the media use that informs it, as this is where threats to democracy are most significant in terms of media regulation. A renunciation of the definition of a fixed threshold for regulatory intervention, as this cannot be well justified.

Solution approach: modular opinion power monitoring

The authors propose a modular, continuous opinion power monitoring system in order to be able to analyse media opinion power potential and make it transparent. It is designed to be cross-media and should include relevant media brands via various playout channels. The aim is to develop a comprehensive understanding of current transformation processes, use this to assess opportunities and risks and derive the need for media policy action.

  • Module 1: Utilisation and evaluation of media brands
  • Module 2: Content of media brands
  • Module 3: Effects of media brands
  • Module 4: Further indicators of the power of opinion of media brands

Conclusion: Paradigm shift and necessary resources – three recommendations for action

The researchers call for a paradigm shift and address three core concerns to media policy:

  • Abandonment of the previous approach to concentration control: the television-centred German media concentration law should be replaced as a control instrument by the establishment of risk control by means of continuous monitoring and evaluation.
  • Expansion of the research infrastructure for evidence-based recommendations: A long-term opinion power monitor should provide relevant knowledge for media policy decisions. The implementation of the modules in turn requires synergies between different research institutions. At the same time, new infrastructures must also be created.
  • Establishment of a holistic approach to diversity protection: Modern diversity protection in the platform age must be rethought. It should move away from pure provider control and take into account both content-related and utilised diversity.