Confusion and Chaos

Transparency Provisions exist but don't deliver 

The Media Ownership Monitor did a reality check and evaluated if and how media ownership information is available for the general public, as well as how detailed and credible it is.

But let’s go a step back: why is it important that media owners are publicly registered in the first place?

In general terms, transparency is the best tool to fight corruption and to disclose conflict of interests. More practically, owners need to be traceable in order to hold them accountable as they are the ones that are legally liable, in case of a defamation or libel case for example. In addition, detailed ownership information is indispensable for evaluating market concentration or monopolization: when owners manage to hide behind complex corporate structures, it becomes difficult or even impossible to assess their overall influence in the media market.

What are the current provisions for transparency?

While the Ghanaian 1992 Constitution provides for a Right to Information, Ghana does not have an Access to Information Law, which would allow citizens to actually claim their Right to Information. Even though it is seen as a major tool in the fight against corruption and to shed light on conflict of interests, such a law is pending for several years now.

Transparency of ownership of media houses is not guaranteed by law – neither for print nor for broadcast. Thus there is no legal ground to enforce the provision of such information. The government has stated a commitment to implementing a beneficial ownership transparency regime and, in July 2016, was in the process of amending the Companies Act to ensure this. The Register General’s office is tasked with  collecting information on ultimate beneficial ownership, however, the amendment still needs to be enforced.

How can you get ownership information?

The National Communication Authority (NCA) authorizes only companies, not individuals, to own and run a broadcasting - TV or radio - outlet. The media company names are publicly available on the NCA website. However, changes in corporate structures and ownership do not have to be reported to the NCA. Also, names of individual owners, ultimate beneficial shareholders, founders, are not available on their website, as secrecy provisions do not allow for it.

All companies, also broadcast companies, have to register at the Registrar General’s office. Company profiles with names of shareholders, directors, founders etc. are theoretically available after the payment of a fee (25GHC / 5.7$) after ten working days.

Print outlets are registered at National Media Commission (NMC) which has no mandate to publish ownership data. Print outlets do not need to be registered as a company and therefore a company profile at the Registrar General’s Department does not necessarily exist.

For this study, publicly available data was retrieved from the online register of the National Communication Authority (NCA) as well as from hard-copy company profiles at the Registrar General’s Department (RGD), where all businesses ought to be registered. At the same time, all media outlets and companies were contacted with a list of follow-up questions, which they could answer in a period of over two months.

Data gathering at the RGD was expensive and time-consuming: after the payment of GHS 25 (USD 5.7) per profile – a total of 900 GHC (USD 205) for the requested media companies –, the RGD released some of the requested data after almost four weeks. The ownership data was in large parts inconsistent with information provided by the NCA, by media companies themselves or by information retrieved from secondary sources.

Inconsistent and missing ownership data – and the implications

Different types of inconsistencies complicated the research and showed that Ghana faces a number of issues regarding media ownership transparency.

1. No company profile at RGD – who is accountable?

Seven company profiles were never released by the RGD. The fees were not paid back. This was the case for e.g. Nyhira Media Ltd (Nyhira FM), Bell Communications Ltd. (Asempa FM), Media General Digital Ghana Ltd. (3NewsOnline), General Portfolio Limited (The Chronicle), Kweeku Baaku Media Ltd. (New Crusading Guide), Neat FM Company Limited (Hello FM).
A company profile for Multimedia Group Ltd., as the group nowadays calls itself, was also not available but only for the Multimedia Broadcasting Group Ltd. It was unclear if this was due to a lack of registration or a lack of record updating.

Implication: Actual owners cannot be hold accountable when filing a case or a complaint against the company. The owner’s affiliated interests in politics, business, or religion cannot be traced.

2. Blank company profile at RGD not worth the money

In four cases, company profiles were available at the RGD but they did not contain more than the company name. The fees were not paid back. This was the case for MULTIPLE CONCEPTS (GH One), Omni Media Company Ltd.(Citi FM, CitiFMOnline), Oman FM Limited (Oman FM), Aero Communications Limited (Adom FM).

Implication: Actual owners cannot be hold accountable when filing a case or a complaint against the company. The owner’s affiliated interests in politics, business, or religion cannot be traced.

3. Unclear legal nature of media groups disguises market

Some media outlets were registered at the NCA to a certain company – but according to public information, they seem to belong to or operate under larger media groups. The legal relation between the companies found in the official registers and the media groups could not be established. It remained e.g. unclear to which extent owner(s) of the subsidiary companies were the same as for the media group. 

The most extreme example was Multimedia Broadcasting Limited, which happens to be one of the biggest companies in terms of audience and advertisement. According to their website, they operate a number of outlets amongst them Adom TV, Nhyira FM, Asempa FM, Adom FM. According to the NCA, however, Adom TV & Adom FM are registered to Aero Communications Ltd.; Asempa FM to Bell Communications Ltd.; Nhyira FM to Nhyira Media Ltd. The relation between Aero Communications Ltd., Bell Communications Ltd., Nhyira Media Ltd. and Multimedia Broadcasting Ltd. could not be established.

Implication: Regulation of media concentration is complicated. When looking only at the outlets directly registered to Multimedia Broadcasting Ltd., its overall influence in the media market would be underestimated.

4. Inconsistent public & official information – whom is to trust?

In two cases, the media company provided us with facts differing from the respective RGD listing:

The company profile for TV3 Network Limited (TV3) was available at the RGD with Media General Ghana Limited listed as sole shareholder. According to business news, however, they only hold 90% with Winmat Ltd. holding 10% minority shares.

For Modern Communication Limited, both the company profile was available at RGD and the questionnaire was filled. However, their self-information (owner Bright Adamson) was not consistent with the information at RGD (three shareowners). In that case, the RGD information was used.

Implication: Regulation of media concentration is complicated if mergers & acquisitions are not monitored and changes in ownership not updated.

5. Registered non-media company operates media

In the case of Zabzugu Limited, the company profile was available at RGD, however they were registered only for manufacturing of clothes and not for any communication related activity.

Implication: There seems no monitoring or exchange of data between NCA and RGD that would reveal these kinds of inconsistencies.

6. Unprecise record keeping complicates access to information

While other problems seem more structural, they were also incidents suggesting a weak level of knowledge management and unprecise record keeping. Company profiles were either saved in one of the two digital archives, or in a hard copy archive. For the digital archive, at least in one case, the company profile could almost not been retrieved as it was saved under a wrong name (Multimesia Broadcasting Ltd. instead of Multimedia Broadcasting Limited).

Implication: Access to information is complicated. This problem would remain even after the introduction of an Access to Information Law.

Active transparency almost at zero

The transparency level is available for each media outlet on the MOM website. The result for the 37 analyzed and contacted media outlets was as follows:

  • Active transparency means a company/channel informs proactively and comprehensively about its ownership, data is constantly updated and easily verifiable. In Ghana, actively transparent were the state-owned media outlets, belonging to Graphic Communication Group Limited, The New Times Corporation, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). Those state-owned enterprises published ownership information on their websites. The only commercial company that provided such information was Media General Ghana Limited – lacking, however, information on the subsidiaries such as Digital Media Genera Ghana Limited. Some of the bigger companies (Multimedia Group, Despite Group) published information on their management and board of directors – but this alone did not count as ownership transparency. In total, only 8.1% of the media outlets were proactive when it came to providing ownership information.
  • Passive transparency means that upon request, ownership data is easily available from the company/from a channel. In Ghana, this was also low: 2 media outlets reacted to the sent questionnaires – Modernghana.com and the Graphic Communication Group Limited. While the Graphic Group provided additionally financial data to the proactively published data, Modernghana was counted as the only passively transparent media outlet (2.7%).
  • Data publicly available means ownership data is easily available from other sources, e. g. public registries etc. In Ghana, data was publicly available for the majority of the media outlets (56.8%) at the Registrar General’s Department. However, the quality of the official company profiles was poor and characterized by blanks. Data was often obviously outdated, with changes in ownership not recorded.
  • Data unavailable means ownership data is not publicly available; company/channel denies the release of information or does not respond, no public record exists. For 32.4% of the outlets, data was unavailable at the Registrar General’s Department even though it is obligatory to register there as a company and even though we paid for the company profile.
  • Active disguise means that in addition to unavailability of true data, ownership is disguised, e. g. through bogus companies, etc. A case like this could not be proven in Ghana. However, in some cases, the media companies had foreign investment companies as sole shareholders. For Yen Media this happened to be EA Investments Ltd., for which no ultimate beneficial owner was available.
  • Project by
    MFWA LOGO
  •  
    Reporters without borders
  • Funded by
    BMZ
  • With kind support from
    GeoPoll