A new study from Columbia University Business School unveils worrying trends. Some say the answer to growing media concentration is protecting quality journalism.

A landmark study by researchers covering 30 countries has found that concentration of media ownership is growing around the world and that the internet seems to be part of the problem. The results were made public at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information at Columbia University Business School on 20 October 2015. The project was led by Professor Eli M. Noam, who is head of the institute.

Following four years of research, the institute has produced the most detailed analysis to date of global media ownership. The results are gathered in a book to be published by Oxford University Press, Who Owns the World’s Media?

Prof. Noam said the research, which spans “30 countries, 13 industries, (and) 20 years,” shows that media concentration is a particular problem in the media content sector; that the internet, where economic conditions favor large companies, is exacerbating the problem, and that globalization is not improving the situation.

He indicated that while these problems are observed worldwide, they are evident “in particular in the developing world, in the BRICS countries that have not received the same attention when it comes to media concentration.” Prof. Noam suggested these areas in particular demonstrate, “the need for academic attention, for policy attention, for activist attention” on the problems revealed in the study.

Professor Jo Groebel, the head of the German Digital Institute in Berlin, analyzed Germany for Who Owns the World’s Media? He argued that the key to addressing the impact of growing media concentration on democracy is protecting criteria of quality in journalism.

“Concentration is not per se threatening the quality of journalism,” he said, “but there are many models which show the more concentrated media are, the less the possibility for many journalists to get their voice … heard.” He stressed that, “democracy is absolutely 100 percent depending on a broad spectrum of opinion, but even more, sources for information.”

Considering the idea that social media can serve as a replacement for journalism, Prof. Groebel said, “Not at all. Social media are great,” as a means of distributing opinion. But he said they are not a substitute for journalism because they “don’t have at one single stage the accountability a professional journalist should have. So social media is not the answer; professional journalism is the answer.”