Norway's policies on media ownership and transparency, and media pluralism make it "faultless" for press freedom

By: Alexandra Arkin

After six years atop Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index, Finland fell two spots because of political pressure and conflicts of interest.[1]  In its place was Norway,[2] deemed “faultless”[3] for press freedom in 2017.

A reason for Norway’s ranking is its attitude toward media ownership.[4]  Its constitution protects free expression and requires the state “to create conditions that facilitate open and enlightened public discourse.”[5]  This highlights the link Norway sees between free expression and media ownership transparency,[6] and “provides a basis for public intervention as a means to promote media pluralism and quality, as a prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy as well as freedom of speech.”[7]  Norway views media pluralism and quality as so critical for democracy and free speech that government has a positive obligation to act.[8]

Norway fosters local competition and national diversity partly through newspaper subsidies.[9]  State-owned public broadcaster Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK) also contributes to media diversity.[10]

Norway’s Media Ownership Act, passed in 1997, banned media groups from owning more than 1/3 of the shares in any TV station, radio station, or newspaper.[11]  It was prompted by concern about the concentration of media ownership.[12]  Print media is dominated by three major companies,[13] which together own 61% of the newspaper industry.[14]  NRK (which is financed by a license fee[15]) dominates in both TV and radio, but faces competition from private broadcasters.[16]  Online, “the most important content-suppliers are well-established media companies.”[17]

The Media Ownership Authority (later integrated into the Norwegian Media Authority[18]) supervised market conditions and ownership in the daily press, TV, radio, and electronic media, and helped create greater openness about, awareness and knowledge of media ownership.[19]

The Authority could intervene in acquisitions of media ownership interests, to avoid the accumulation of “significant ownership positions” in media markets in the hands of one entity.[20]  (“Significant” meant a national market share of 1/3 or more.[21])  It could prohibit acquisitions, order the divestment of ownership interests acquired, or allow acquisitions under any conditions needed to prevent the acquisitions from conflicting with the law’s goal of promoting free expression and “a comprehensive range of media.”[22]  These provisions “[applied] correspondingly to cooperation agreements giving a contracting party the same or a corresponding influence on the editorial product as an acquisition.”[23]

In 2016, the Norwegian Media Authority’s control over media ownership was abolished; changes in media ownership are now subject to the review of the Competition Authority.[24]

At the same time, a new law  -  the eponymous “Act relating to transparency of media ownership”  -  was passed,[25] under which the Norwegian Media Authority creates greater transparency, awareness and knowledge of media ownership interests by collecting and systematizing information about ownership structures, and releasing the information to the public.[26]

In 2015, Norway’s government, responding to technological developments affecting the media,[27] appointed a commission to review the government’s measures to promote pluralism.[28]  It presented a report in March 2017[29] that proposed simplifying restrictions on the payment of dividends to shareholders, which apply to beneficiaries of the subsidy scheme.[30]  This would stimulate investment and more diversified news media ownership.[31]

The commission also proposed grants to support news media innovation projects, to promote journalism of societal importance, and to assist news media that are free for users,[32] and recommended more support for local media and for commercial public service television and radio.[33]  It suggested expanding a value-added tax exemption to all news and current affairs media, and to the sale of individual news articles,[34] to include media that provide in-depth coverage of a limited range of news.[35]

The current status of the commission’s proposals is unknown, but one member of the commission hopes they will fuel public debate and focus more attention on the importance of media diversity for free speech.[36]

Norway’s policies toward media ownership and transparency, and media pluralism are an interesting contrast to those of the U.S.

While the U.S. has pluralism in the broadcast and electronic arenas, the decline in financial resources for news gathering and reporting impedes pluralism.[37]  Public broadcasting has modest resources.[38]  In the private media, there has been an “unprecedented” consolidation of ownership.[39]  For example, the number of independent TV station owners has dropped by 40% since 1995.[40]  The number of commercial radio stations fell by 36%.[41]  Five big media corporations control almost 75% of primetime viewing.[42]  And, of course, there is the well-documented decline in the print media, especially with local newspapers.[43]

As discussed above, Norway’s constitution requires the government to facilitate open, enlightened public discourse, which it does by combating concentration of media ownership, and promoting media ownership transparency and media pluralism.  The U.S. Constitution has no such requirement, and the government seems to be doing the opposite over the past year.  In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to review its national TV ownership rule,[44] which limits how many TV stations one entity may own nationwide only if the station group collectively reaches more than 39% of all American TV households.[45]  The FCC is expected to raise or eliminate the cap.[46]  This follows its vote in November to remove roadblocks to increased consolidation among media companies (specifically, a ban on cross-ownership of a newspaper and TV station in a major market), and to make it easier for media companies to buy more TV stations in the same market, for local stations to jointly sell advertising time, and for companies to purchase more radio stations in some markets.[47]

One consequence of the fall in the American media’s resources is the deterioration in quality or depth of news coverage.[48]  This makes quality coverage by public media, and funding for public media, especially important.

Regarding public media, a 2012 comparison by the Columbia Journalism Review of U.S. and Scandinavian politicians’ attitudes toward public broadcasting rings true today:  “Just as in the U.S., politicians in Scandinavia sometimes accuse their public broadcasters of having a political bias. . . . But unlike [in] the U.S., those accusations can’t turn into threats of funding cuts.”[49]

The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget allocated $30 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a $454 million cut from 2017’s allocation of $484 million, with the goal of ultimately eliminating federal funding for CPB.[50]  The justification for the cuts is that CPB’s federal funding is a small amount of its total funding, and it can make up that amount with more private fundraising.[51]  CPB gives grants to qualified public television and radio stations, amounting to about 15% of the total amount spent on public broadcasting; the rest comes from non-federal sources.[52]  Private fundraising “has proven durable, negating the need for continued Federal subsidies.  Services such as [the Public Broadcasting Service] and [National Public Radio] . . . could make up the shortfall by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations, and members.”[53]  Finally, there are more alternatives to PBS and NPR programming compared to when CPB was created, reducing the need for publicly funded programming choices.[54]

In PBS’s situation, most of PBS’s share of the federal dollars currently allocated for public television and radio goes to support public TV stations nationwide.[55]  A number of those rely on that federal money for up to half their budgets and cannot survive without it.[56]  Further, many of those stations are in rural, underserved areas where residents lack access to or cannot afford cable or satellite, and must rely on over-the-air broadcasting.[57]  (This is especially important in light of the fact that local print media is struggling, as discussed above.)

Even if CPB’s federal funding is not eliminated, the U.S. already provides less public funding for public broadcasting than other Western nations, according to a 2016 study prepared for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[58]  Norway led in per capita public funding, while the U.S. was last among the countries studied.[59]  It further underscores Norway and the U.S.’s different policies toward media ownership and transparency, and media pluralism.



[1] Analyses:  2017 World Press Freedom Index  -  tipping point, Reporters Without Borders, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018); see also, e.g., RSF condemns Finnish premier’s harassment of state TV journalists, Reporters Without Borders (Dec. 3, 2016),

[2] Index details:  Data of press freedom ranking 2017, Reporters Without Borders, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[3] Norway, Reporters Without Borders, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[4] Id.

[5] See article 100 of the Norwegian constitution, available at

[6] Peggy Valcke, The Unbearable Lightness of Media Ownership Transparency 14 (Sept. 24, 2014),

[7] Summary of “Media pluralism in Norway”, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018); see also Media Pluralism Commission delivers its report, Norwegian media pluralism  -  A stronger media policy for the public (Mar. 7, 2017),

[8] Valcke, supra note 6 at 14; Hallvard Moe, Norwegian report on media diversity takes citizens’ perspective, Media Reform Coalition (Mar. 31, 2017),

[9] Norway, Media Landscapes, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[10] Id.

[11] See Media Ownership Act §§ 10-11.  No version of the most recent version of the law is available in English; for the 2005 version, available in English, see Norway:  Media Ownership Act (Act No. 53 of June 13, 1997 relating to Media Ownership), WIPO Lex, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).  For the most recent version (in Norwegian), in which the limit for media groups’ ownership was changed from 40% to 1/3, see WIPO Lex, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[12] Reporters Without Borders, supra note 3; Media Landscapes, supra note 9.

[13] Freedom of the Press 2016:  Norway, Freedom House, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[14] Largest Norwegian newspaper groups, medianorway, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[15] About private licences, NRK (Oct. 2, 2017),  For an overview of other countries that utilize a TV license, see Tim Masters, How is TV funded around the world?, BBC News (Mar. 31, 2014),

[16] Freedom House, supra note 13.

[17] Helge Østbye, Media Landscapes:  Norway, European Journalism Centre, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[18] Media Landscapes, supra note 9.

[19] See Media Ownership Act, supra note 11, § 7, available at

[20] Thomas Rieber-Mohn, Norway:  Media Ownership Act  -  Revisited, IRIS Merlin (2006),; Bård Racin Meltvedt, Broadcasting, media and entertainment law in Norway: overview, available at (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[21] See Media Ownership Act, supra note 11, §§ 10-11.

[22] Id. § 9.

[23] Id.

[24] Ole Kristian Aabø-Evensen, Private mergers and acquisitions in Norway: overview, available at (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[25] Act relating to transparency of media ownership §§ 1-2, available at (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[26] Id. § 3.

[27] See Hamida El Bour, Elsebeth Frey, & Md. Golam Rahman, Media Landscape in Bangladesh, Norway and Tunisia, Negotiating Journalism:  Core Values & Cultural Diversities 23, 29 (Elsebeth FreyMofizur Rhaman, & Hamida El Bour eds., 2017), available at (“Due to global competition  -  technological developments that have altered media use and reduced income and the downsizing of editorial staff  -  there are concerns today about the plurality of the media as well as journalism’s continued influence on the public debate.”).

[28] Summary of “Media pluralism in Norway”, supra note 7.

[29] Media Pluralism Commission delivers its report, supra note 7.

[30] Summary of “Media pluralism in Norway”, supra note 7.

[31] Id.

[32] Media Pluralism Commission delivers its report, supra note 7; Summary of “Media pluralism in Norway”, supra note 7.

[33] Eva Harrie, Norwegian Commission for Media Pluralism delivers its final report, Nordicom (Mar. 21, 2017),

[34] Media Pluralism Commission delivers its report, supra note 7; Summary of “Media pluralism in Norway”, supra note 7.

[35] Norway:  Media Pluralism Commission delivers its report, European Platform of Regulatory Auths. (Mar. 15, 2017),

[36] Moe, supra note 8.

[37] Access to Information:  Media Pluralism, Sustainable Government Indicators, (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).  Sustainable Government Indicators is project of the German organization Bertelsmann Stiftung.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.; see also Kate Vinton, These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Media Companies, (June 1, 2016), (discussing how many of the top U.S. news outlets, both print and broadcast, are concentrated in the hands of the same few billionaires).

[43] Sustainable Government Indicators, supra note 37.

[44] John Eggerton, FCC Opens Review of 39% Cap, UHF Discount, Broadcasting & Cable (Dec. 14, 2017, 2:42 PM),

[45] FCC Broadcast Ownership Rules, FCC, (last updated Dec. 27, 2017).

[46] Eggerton, supra note 44.

[47] David Shepardson, U.S. regulator votes to loosen media ownership rules, Reuters (Nov. 16, 2017, 2:10 PM),

[48] Sustainable Government Indicators, supra note 37.  This is exacerbated by the increasing use of cell phones as news consumers’ main way of accessing news.  Id.

[49] Lauren Kirchner, Scandinavian public media fight for their right to grow:  Potential regulatory changes spell an uncertain future, Columbia Journalism Rev. (May 31, 2012),

[50] Office of Mgmt. & Budget, Major Savings and Reforms:  Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2018 106 (2017),

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Id.

[55] PBS CEO says ‘a number’ of stations would disappear if Trump cuts federal funding, Associated Press, (last updated July 30, 2017, 9:37 PM).

[56] Id.; Dom Caristi, What do other countries know about public broadcasting that the US doesn’t?, Washington Examiner (Mar. 27, 2017, 1:00 AM), (“[T]he stations most likely to suffer the most from cuts will be those in small markets, where federal funding makes up a greater percentage of the total operating budget.”).

[57] Associated Press, supra note 55; Caristi, supra note 56 (“The greatest risk is in the very places with the fewest free, over-the-air media choices. . . . Public broadcasting has faced budget cuts before, and the argument is always the same:  ‘the marketplace’ will provide the things that government-supported broadcasting provides.  That ignores reality.  The trend in America today is fewer households paying for cable or satellite.  Certainly the poor are less likely to have paid television services, so all the variety purported by marketplace proponents is not available to those who don’t pay a subscription fee.”).

[58] Nordicity, Analysis of Government Support for Public Broadcasting 48 (Apr. 11, 2016),

[59] Id.