Berlusconi and Murdoch

Up until 1999, the press had enjoyed a freedom from legislation that the other media could only dream of. The constitution of 1814 guaranteed freedom of speech, and included in this was the right for everyone to own a newspaper. However, media concentration became an issue in Norway in the late 1980s, and in 1987 the government commissioned a study into the consequences of this. The study produced a twenty-page report, which did not consider concentration of ownership to be a problem.

During the 1990s the situation continued to be discussed, and in 1995 the idea of a media ownership law was put forward. The law was finally voted by parliament in 1997, to enter into effect on the 1st January 1999. 33 The main objective of this law was to preserve freedom of speech and media pluralism and it introduced an overall ownership limit of 1/3 of the media. To enforce the new legislation, the Norwegian Media Ownership Authority (NMOA) was set up. This authority would consider all purchases and in its first year of operation it looked at 40 cases.

They all concerned the local markets and in four cases were deemed to give the buyer a too strong regional influence, thus necessitating the authority to intervene. It is difficult as of yet to see whether this law has made any real difference, and some onlookers deem it to be 'too little too late', as the four years which passed between the suggestion and the implementation of the law allowed the three biggest corporations to acquire shares in most regional and local media.

However, it has helped to turn the situation where regional papers would buy up local media and thus creating a regional monopoly around. As the merits of this law continue to be discussed the parliament also considers increasing the ownership limit to 49%. The editors and the journalists are strongly opposed to this, and academics such as Sigve Gramstad in the NMOA and Johann Roppen from the Volda College have stated that within 49%, one company could own all national and major regional media apart from NRK, and that such a system would only leave room for two major groups instead of three.

Effects and influence The increasing influence of big media groups has led to the disappearance of what used to be one of the major problems for media integrity in Norway – the ownership of local and regional media by powerful public personas. In small, close-nit societies, where everybody knew each other, this could cause conflicts of interest for the journalists. If they wrote critically about local industry, they risked offending their owners. This also applied to local politics, as the same person or persons could own a newspaper, the cornerstone industry and be on the city council.

Although conflicts of interest will always be a concern for journalists, the fact that the ownership aspect of this is gone is a great advantage. The big companies tend to be a lot more worried about accusations of censorship than of critique of their way of doing business. Another advantage of a concentration of ownership is the financial aspect. A centralised printing facility in an area where the same company owns several newspapers reduces the costs, and gives an opportunity to smaller papers that might otherwise have had problems staying afloat.

Publicity co-operation schemes, which have existed in Norway since 1971, are also an important feature of Norwegian media. They consist of two or more newspapers presenting the advertiser with a package deal, allowing the publicity to reach a larger audience at a lower cost than would have otherwise incurred if the advertiser were to negotiate with each newspaper separately. Today most newspapers are members of at least one, as they allow smaller papers to get a share of the national advertising market they would otherwise not have been able to touch.

However, concentration of media ownership is a multifaceted concept, and there are many disadvantages to a too strong concentration. Although the owners might not exercise any direct editorial influence, there are many other ways to affect the contents of a media. As has been shown, the groups are mainly interested in making money, and the economic pressure put on different media can heavily influence the contents. To satisfy the advertisers and an audience as varied as possible, it is necessary for the papers to streamline their output.

This can in many circumstances lead to 'more importance being accorded to entertainment than to information'38. As in most countries, the Norwegian media carry more and more material about celebrities, sports and other cultural aspects, and less of politics and economy. One major risk of the near monopoly situation that has established itself in some regions, is the disappearance of investigative journalism. This had been in decline in all media, but as long as competition exists there will always be a will to find an exclusive story.

In a monopoly situation this need is gone, and the media can get away with a mere reporting of facts. The readers and viewers will have to be content with this, and as there is no alternative they might not even notice that things have changed. A new breed of editors, the corporate editors, has evolved. These are hired by the corporation, and their main aim is no longer to inform and influence, but to ensure that the business make money.

This causes the situation for investigative journalism to become more difficult, as such an editor would never approve the spending if he/she was not convinced that the story would make a profit. There is also a fear in the market that major international media moguls such as Berlusconi and Murdoch will turn their eye towards Norway. These have a completely different way of going about their of ownership, and have a history of influencing the content of their media.

There is a saying amongst journalists that: 'even if they can not understand the language, they can still understand numbers'. It would be wrong to say that the Norwegian owners directly influence the contents of their media as there seems to be a broad consensus that they do not. However, with the increased centralisation and the demands for profit, the contents are indirectly being affected. The Norwegian media are today becoming more and more streamlined, and the small voices and the investigative journalism are losing out.