Governments urged to support independent media to avoid ‘extinction event’

Independent journalism is facing a possible “extinction event” due to a hostile political environment, authoritarian resurgence, declining revenues because of the digital shift, and fraying public trust. This “precarious state” has been highlighted in a new report from some of the world’s leading journalists, economists, communications experts and media academics.

The report, A New Deal for Journalism’, was penned by a team of expert stakeholders that make up the Working Group on the Sustainability of Journalism of the Forum on Information and Democracy. Tens of journalists, economists, professors, academics, editors, and media freedom advocates contributed in the form of interviews and statements.

It was authored as a response to the “worsening international crisis facing the economic viability of independent professional journalism everywhere”. 

Historical business models that once underpinned journalism have undergone “radical disruption and erosion” over the last two decades. This leaves independent media platforms in an increasingly precarious position, unable to fund themselves, to the detriment of those looking for quality information.

They describe the current situation as “severe”, adding that if policymakers can find the political will to make changes now and to develop them over the next decade, journalism could become sustainable and the health of open societies will improve.

The report calls for sustained and immediate action from all stakeholders including governments, to facilitate better funding, policies, and working environments for independent media. This, the report states, should be equivalent to 0.1% of GDP annually in both direct and indirect funding.

Some of the key recommendations made to governments include ensuring that they adhere to all domestic and international human rights commitments relating to freedom of expression, media freedom and journalists’ safety. It also calls on them to ensure full transparency of media ownership and to ensure the ultimate beneficial owners of media outlets are made public.

Internationally, they must be ready to apply pressure on other states to realise their obligations to human rights and media freedom, and to help counter regression.

Secondly, governments must show they are demonstrably committed to the freedom of independent journalism. This can be achieved by implementing policies that have a track record of enhancing both plurality and sustainability of funding. 

Governments should also provide domestic support to independent media in a legal, fair, and transparent manner without influencing editorial content. Government advertising should be transparent, and public service media should be genuinely free from political control in all aspects of operations.

Other measures such as VAT breaks, tax credits, and other fiscal incentives for businesses and individuals were tabled.

The report states that our world is experiencing “multiple crises” such as “the climate emergency, a global pandemic, a democratic recession, an authoritarian resurgence, growing inequality and misinformation”. Independent journalism has the power to change it, but only if they are supported.

“As with the climate crisis, if those with the power to act do nothing, delay taking action, or worse, actively harm journalism, the consequences for society and democracy are likely to be catastrophic,” it says.

To avert this crisis, billions must be spent globally to secure the journalism and access to information that societies need to combat these other crises. 

The committee behind the report was chaired by Christophe Deloire, who is also the Secretary-General and Executive Director of the international media advocacy organisation Reporters Without Borders.

He observed: “Freedom of the press is an indispensable condition for this social function, as are editorial independence and a pluralist context. However, this freedom cannot remain theoretical. It needs a way of putting it into effect.”  

Deloire added that “the time has come for a New Deal for Journalism, a major commitment on a national and international scale to foster journalism worthy of the name, public-interest journalism, and journalism of quality: free, independent and reliable.

The report concludes with a warning that it’s “no longer tenable for the government to interact only with the largest and most powerful media organisations.” Instead, coalitions must be formed around common interests in order to defend media freedom, nurture funding opportunities, and build a new future.

                           
                               
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