Madrid, 1 August 2013 – Research by Access Info Europe and the Open Society Media Program in 20 countries (19 European region plus Morocco) has revealed that the legal framework in most countries is insufficient to guarantee transparency of media ownership.
» In only 9 of the 20 countries (including only four of the EU member states surveyed), can the public find out who the actual owners of the broadcast media are from reporting to media regulators or to company registers.
» Disclosure to media regulators of beneficial (ultimate) owners of media outlets is not currently required in most of the countries
» There is no unified or standard approach to collecting or requiring disclosure to the public of media ownership data, particularly with regard to print and online media.
» There is a need for clear international standards on transparency of media ownership and on the legal framework required to achieve it; there is currently no clear standard in spite of recognition of the importance of such transparency and the recommendations which do exist are non-binding and have proved ineffective.
What has been done so far
Access Info Europe and the Open Society Media Program are working to map out whether or not the public has a right to access information about who the real owners of media outlets are in a total of 20 different countries, across Europe and in Morocco.
An analysis carried out by national experts on the media and companies laws in each country has revealed that it is not normally possible for members of the public to obtain a detailed and comprehensive picture of who owns the media outlets. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to know from the data currently available in most countries who the ultimate or beneficial owners of media outlets are – in other words, the complex chains of formal owners means that the public is not able to know the influences to which media outlets are subject and which may affect their editorial line.
The availability of accurate and up-to-date data on media ownership is an essential component of a democratic media system. It is impossible to take steps to address excessive media concentrations without the tools to identify the owners; public knowledge of owners’ identities helps to ensure that abuses of media power can be assessed, publicised, openly debated and – even – prevented. Both media regulators and the general public must have access to information about who owns – and influences – media outlets.
The overall goal of the project is to secure for each country an adequate legal framework which is implemented in practice, and which guarantees that members of the public are able easily to find out who is behind the media outlets that shape the information they receive.
Detailed draft recommendations, including recommendations for each of the countries involved in the project, will be circulated among relevant civil society organisations and media freedom activists with the goal of building a coalition to campaign for reform of national laws, and to carry forward the recommendations that international organisations such as the European Union, Council of Europe and Organization for Security.
Experts in media and company law from the 20 countries have completed a detailed research questionnaire developed by the Access Info and Open Society Media Program research team. This questionnaire evaluated the three main mechanisms for gathering information on ownership of media outlets:
1. Media Regulation: Media-specific regulations that require media organisations to disclose ownership information to a public body, such as a media authority.
2. Direct Disclosure: Media-specific regulations that require media organisations to disclose ownership information directly to the public.
3. Company Law: The general legal requirements that may directly or indirectly require disclosure of media ownership, such as company rules that oblige company shareholdings to be reported to company registers.
The Open Society Media Program and Access Info Europe have commenced advocacy work based on these findings. The first publications were released in autumn 2012, in the form of a report to the European Union’s High-level Group for Media Freedom and Pluralism, and a presentation to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). This resulted in the adoption of a new PACE resolution in January 2013 on the state of media freedom in Europe.
» 22 October 2012 – Transparency of Media Ownership in Europe: A report for the High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism by Access Info and the Open Society Media Program.
Report available here:
» 18 December 2012 – Presentation by Fiona Harrison, Access Info Europe to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). This contributed to the adoption of a PACE Resolution on 24 January 2013 (see below) in which PACE stated that it “welcomes the report on transparency of media ownership in Europe prepared by Access Info Europe (Madrid) and the Open Society Media Programme (London)” and called for member states to take action to promote transparency of media ownership.
» 25 April 2013 – Presentation by Fiona Harrison, Access Info Europe, at the third meeting of the Council of Europe Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI) in Strasbourg.
Presentation available here:
Key European Union texts
» European Commission, DG Connect, High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, issued its Final Report on 21 January 2013.
HLG’s final report can also be downloaded here:
» Independent study on Indicators for Media Pluralism (2009) commissioned by the European Commission identifies a “lack of transparency in ownership” as one of the threats to media pluralism.
Indicators available here:
Key Council of Europe texts
» Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on Measures to Protect Media Transparency, 22 November 1994.
» Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Declaration on protecting the role of the media in democracy in the context of media concentration, 31 January 2007, which recalls the “necessity of having regulatory measures in place with a view to guaranteeing full transparency of media ownership”.
» Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on media pluralism and diversity of media content, 31 January 2007, which recalls “the importance of transparency of media ownership so as to ensure that the authorities in charge of the implementation of regulations concerning media pluralism can take informed decisions, and that the public can make its own analysis of the information, ideas and opinions expressed by the media”.
Key Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe texts
» Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1920 (2013) “The state of media freedom in Europe”, of 24 January 2013, in which “The Assembly regrets that media ownership is not made transparent in all member States and asks them to adopt the necessary provisions to this end.” The Parliamentary Assembly added that “Lack of transparency is typically used to hide political or commercial interests in controlling major media companies. … The Assembly notes with concern recent incidences of collusion of media and media owners with politicians and State officials, which undermine public confidence in democratic government and independent media. Politicians and State officials must avoid any relations with the media which may lead to a conflict of interest.”
Resolution is available here:
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. ‘The state of media freedom in Europe’. Explanatory memorandum by rapporteur, Mr Mats Johansson. 7 December 2012.
Explanatory Memorandum available here:
Other background documents
» Yolande Stolte and Rachael Craufurd Smith, The European Union and Media Ownership Transparency: the Scope for Regulatory Intervention, June 2010.