Can the public find out who owns the media through free access to the essential information required?
According to the Media Act, as amended in 2011, it is possible to finds out who owns print, online and broadcast media through information reported directly to the public. All media must disclose enough information for their real owners to be identified, including information on all shareholdings, whatever the size, beneficial owners back to a real person and those with indirect interests and control. For periodical media, this should be done annually next to the “imprint” or masthead, for broadcast media it must be permanently available via teletext or be published in the Official Gazette of the Austrian newspaper (the Wiener Zeitung) and for online media it must be permanently available online.
The requirement to disclose shareholders whatever the size of their shareholding and to reveal beneficial owners back to a real person make these provisions some of the most progressive in Europe. A key drawback, however, is that foreign media (that is those registered abroad) are not covered unless such media are completely or almost exclusively distributed within Austria which is usually not the case.
The broadcast media must also report a wide range of information to the media authority, the Austrian Communications Authority (KommAustria), under the Audiovisual Media Services Act or Private Radio Broadcast Act. It is insufficient for the public to identify the real owners however for two key reasons: 1) the information is made public by KommAustria via the orders which grant the licence but this is not a legal requirement and the relevant information is not comprehensible to a non-expert reader; and 2) shareholdings below 25% never have to be disclosed to KommAustria meaning that smaller shareholders who might have other indirect influence or control cannot be identified.
Corporate law does not reveal ownership of private companies and only reveals ownership of publicly-listed companies if they have one sole shareholder, in which case beneficial ownership must be reported. For publicly-listed companies with more than one shareholder beneficial ownership does not need to be disclosed.
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.