Call for Transparency About the Norwegian Media Authority’s Role and Tasks

The recent proposal to discontinue the funding for Medianorway is an example of the lack of transparency about the development of Norwegian Media Authority’s responsibilities and tasks, and it raises fundamental questions about what a supervisory authority should be.

This letter was first written in Norwegian and published in the Norwegian online newspaper for higher education and research Khrono, and later adapted for NordMedia Network.

The Norwegian National Budget for 2023 includes a proposal to discontinue the funding to Medianorway (the funding in 2022 was NOK 2.4 million). Since its beginning in 1994, Medianorway has collected media statistics to document media development. The knowledge base is anchored at the University of Bergen and is an active partner in Nordic statistical cooperation with Nordicom.

In its justification, the Ministry of Culture and Equality points out that “it is reasonable to gather most tasks related to the collection of media statistics and analysis with one actor. The Norwegian Media Authority is the governmental body in the field and already has this task. On this basis, the funding to Medianorway is proposed to be discontinued”.

A small matter on the National Budget – but an important matter to discuss. It is an example of a lack of transparency about what the Ministry of Culture envisions with the development of the Media Authority, its responsibilities, and tasks.

In 2020, Medianorway was notified that the Norwegian Media Authority believed that Medianorway’s tasks overlapped with those of the Norwegian Media Authority. In 2021, an evaluation process was launched to investigate this type of overlap in more detail; however, the evaluation has not been completed. There is no openly available documentation, nor a discussion about the relationship between the supervisory role versus research. Yet with a decision in the National Budget that transfers documentation work from a university to a governmental supervisory body.

This case illustrates a tendency for the Norwegian Media Authority to take on tasks it did not previously have. This raises fundamental questions about what a supervisory authority should be.

The Media Authority’s primary task is linked to media policy goals in Norway. The Norwegian Media Authority is the state’s supervisory and administrative body in the media area. Its most important tasks are linked to media policy goals, including facilitating freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. The Norwegian Media Authority supervises our public broadcasters and administers subsidy schemes, such as press support for newspapers.

In the Ministry of Culture’s letter of allocation to the Norwegian Media Authority for 2022, it states, as in previous years’ letters, that the authority shall facilitate diverse editorial content; help develop active and informed media users; and be a relevant societal actor. When it comes to more analytical tasks, the Norwegian Media Authority should develop and make available relevant insight, particularly related to media diversity and critical media understanding.

The Norwegian Media Authority interprets this insight task very broadly and informs on its website that they aim to acquire and disseminate facts, analyses and insights about the media market, media regulation, and media use. In the area of insight and analysis, the boundaries between the Norwegian Media Authority and other societal actors are unclear.

To what extent should the state’s supervisory body (responsible for media support) also prepare media statistics and media analysis? It is obvious that the Norwegian Media Authority must build on insight and knowledge about the media industry and about media development in order to carry out its tasks. However, it is not as obvious that it is the Norwegian Media Authority itself that should be responsible for developing knowledge and insight. If you look at the recruitment to the Norwegian Media Authority, analysis and more or less direct research activities are more central than before, in the media field in general, and in areas related to children and young people’s use of media in particular.

As media researchers from several research environments in Norway, we want a more open process on how far the Norwegian Media Authority’s tasks extend beyond the supervisory task related to media policy goals. We find it fundamentally problematic that research and documentation activities that were previously at universities, colleges, and research institutes – and which are subject to principles of quality, transparency, and research ethics – are to a greater extent drawn into the administration on the initiative of the administration itself, and that we are informed about this as a proposal in the National Budget.

In the annual report for 2021, the Norwegian Media Authority writes that their ability to fulfil their societal mission “requires good expertise, close dialogue with industry players and other relevant partners, and proper prioritization of resources and efforts”. Perhaps the right prioritisation of resources and effort is to build on the competence and knowledge that already exists in the media area and to concentrate on supervisory tasks?

The Medianorway case was discussed at the Norwegian Media Research Association’s General Assembly on 13 October 2022. The General Assembly regretted the discontinuation, and several raised questions about the role of the Norwegian Media Authority.

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Medianorway risks being closed down

The information centre Medianorway at risk of being closed as government considers cutting funding after 28 years.
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Medianorway risks being closed down