Can the public find out who owns the media through free access to the essential information required?
It is not possible to ascertain who owns broadcast, print or online media in Switzerland via information reported under media-specific or company law. Swiss law does not go very far in respect of transparency requirements compared to other countries, being based more on the principle of confidentiality or secrecy.
The broadcast media are covered by the Law on Radio and Television which contains unclear and vague provisions on disclosure of ownership to the media authority. For example, it is not clear whether beneficial ownership or those with indirect control / significant interest would be revealed. Also, the threshold for disclosure of shareholdings is one-third which is too high for effective transparency.
Print and online media are only covered by the ownership reporting requirements of the three relevant corporate laws. The information required for disclosure does not always reveal who has ultimate control of a company. In general, for non-listed companies, basic information such as the names and size of shareholding will not be available to the public. For listed companies, this information can generally be accessed by the public but it depends on the company and the law in question. Some information can be accessed by everyone (generally for listed companies), while others can be accessed only by some stakeholders (for example: the shareholders).
Since 2011, Switzerland has renegotiated double taxation agreements with many other states, including EU Member States. These treaties require Switzerland to provide EU Member State regulatory authorities with greater information on companies banking in Switzerland. Although this is not a media-specific measure, the national regulatory authorities have much greater access to information on which companies are registered and banking in Switzerland and who owns them. This information could then, in turn, be requested by civil society groups from the national regulatory authorities and contribute to the identification of media outlets.
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.