Country case study: Norway

Is media ownership transparent?
In law YES
In practice NO

IN LAW

According to the law, it is possible to finds out who owns print, broadcast and online media in Norway through information reported to the Norwegian Media Authority. Under the 1997 Media Ownership Act, on the request of the Norwegian Media Authority, all media must report sufficient information for their owners to be identified. It should be noted that, in common with Luxembourg and the UK, the Norwegian law does not specific exactly what information should be reported but rather relies on the media authority to request of the media the information it deems necessary. In practice in Norway this will include all the key information required to identify an owner back to a company – not necessarily back to an individual. This would include information on the size of shareholdings, beneficial owners and those with indirect interests and control. This information is made public by the Norwegian Media Authority on its website.

A parliamentary Green Paper published in 1995[1] stated that there was a trend towards concentration of media ownership. Despite the strongly-held view in Norway that government should not intervene in issues of media ownership on the grounds of freedom of expression, this increasing concentration of ownership was of concern since this in itself can be an obstacle to media freedom and diversity. As a result, the Media Ownership Act was adopted by Parliament in 1997. The new law represented a significant change; prior to 1997 only one television station (TV2) and one radio station (P4) were regulated and thus required to report ownership information. As a result of the act all media, including print and online, were required to report.

Media ownership issues are regularly discussed in the media; in the debate surrounding the introduction of the Media Ownership Act, there were no objections raised about the principle of all media reporting.

 

IN PRACTICE

In general, it is possible to obtain ownership information via the Norwegian Media Authority in practice although the information published on the website only reveals ownership back to a company, not to a real person.

The law also requires media to report sources of revenue. With regard to other sources of financing, such as sponsorship, all the “established” media are members of the Norwegian Press Organisation

[i], and as such have taken upon themselves to respect the Norwegian Press Organisations Code of Journalistic Ethics, according to which the readers/listeners/viewers shall be informed of any third party financing, directly or indirectly, of editorial content. This does happen in practice so, for example, when a sponsor or commercial partner is involved in financing of a specific editorial product, this is publicised.

Greater ownership reporting requirements place further demands on both the media and the media authority. In order to find out how the requirement to report works in practice, interviews were carried out with one Norwegian newspaper, as well as the Norwegian Media Authority, to find out how they manage ownership information in practice.
The management and monitoring of media ownership reporting requirements under the Media Ownership Act falls within the job description of four (out of 50) employees within the Media Authority. They each spend approximately 10% of their time working on ownership information so the total time is therefore about 40% of a full-time person. One person registers information received via the media’s annual web submissions and continually updates information based on media monitoring whilst the other three write up the annual ownership report to the Department of Culture and carry out outreach, giving presentations and so forth. Information is only double checked if it does not make sense. They might also add to the Media Authority website other relevant information from the corporate annual reports in public registers and data from the Norwegian Media Businesses Association (MBL), the National Association of Local Newspapers (LLA) and TNS Gallup.
Ownership information for the newspaper interviewed is reported by the Managing Director in collaboration with an employee of the parent company. This is carried out annually in January, via the Media Authority’s web form.

The newspaper sees three main benefits to disclosing ownership information: (i) it is a prerequisite for receiving press support from the government; (ii) it makes it clear to the public where their affiliations lay or alternatively demonstrates independence. They receive many requests for information about ownership, demonstrating the demand. These come from advertising agencies and the general public, especially in the two cities where local editions of the paper have recently been launched. The main drawback of reporting ownership for smaller media is that it makes them less attractive for advertisers if they are not part of the largest media groups.

Although the law does not require media to publish ownership information directly to the public, the newspaper does this voluntarily via Wikipedia.

 

RELEVANT LEGISLATION

Law Media covered by law
The Media Ownership Act – Act of 13/6-1997 number 53 Broadcast, print and online media
The Limited Companies Act of 13/6-1997 number 14 Broadcast, print and online media
The Public Limited Liability Companies Act of 13/6-1997-45 Broadcast, print and online media

 

INFORMATION SOURCES

Access Info – Norway media ownership law and practice research questionnaire: www.access-info.org/wp-content/uploads/tmo_norway_17july2013.doc

Media Register, Norwegian Media Authority http://medietilsynet.no

Register of Business Enterprises – https://www.brreg.no/the-bronnoysund-register-centre/business-in-norway/

[i] In Norwegian – Norsk Presseforbund
2018-11-13T10:12:10+00:00
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