Can the public find out who owns the media through free access to the essential information required?
It is only possible to find out who owns the broadcast media in the UK. This is via the reporting requirements to the media authority (Ofcom) under the Broadcasting Act 1990 and Communications Act 2003. In common with Norway and Luxembourg, the law does not state what information should be disclosed but leaves it to the discretion of Ofcom to request all the information it deems necessary. In practice this may include information on the size of shareholdings, beneficial owners and those with indirect interests and control if Ofcom. These requirements do not apply to newspaper publishers unless the owners also hold a regional TV broadcasting licence in which case rules limiting cross-media ownership may apply. If there is no cross-media ownership issue, then print and online media are only subject to the standard company reporting requirements (see below).
Obtaining the information reported to Ofcom is not always easy for the public. The law does not require Ofcom to make the information it receives public and only some ownership information is available on its website. Only licence applications for competitive licence awards, such as for local TV services (L-DTPS) or commercial radio services are published on the website. They contain ownership information including sizes of shareholdings and names and contact details of shareholders in some cases.
In other instances Ofcom takes the view that they publicise the list of licensees and ownership information for those licensees can be found on the website of the companies register, Companies House, as a matter of public record. The Companies Act only requires public limited companies to disclose detailed ownership information about beneficial owners to Companies House and therefore beneficial ownership of private limited companies is not available. Furthermore, there is charge of £1-£2 for each record accessed which quickly becomes prohibitive if any volume of information is required. This information may be subject to a freedom of information request under the Freedom of Information Act but Ofcom reports that as at December 2014 it has never received such a request.
DRAFT – FOR PUBLIC CONSULTATION: This research has been carried out by national experts and is open for consultation. Please let us know if you have any suggestions, or if you spot any errors or omissions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.