Support on independence of local media

Tabled by TUCJ (Croatia), CJA (Croatia), BH Journalists Association (Bosnia and Herzegovina), IJAS (Serbia), SNS (Slovenia), SNJ (France) The annual meeting of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, on 8-9 October 2021,

Noting that local journalism has long suffered by political pressure and from the problem of survival in the new media environment, as well as the Covid -19 crisis became even more vulnerable for the local media and protection of workers’ rights in media houses, The EFJ considers it necessary to help local outlets that are currently struggling, as well as to ensure their continuation in the future. As local journalism faces many economic challenges (wage cuts, layoffs, or even closure) that have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, such assistance is more than needed. The value of local journalism of trust has never been clearer: independent reporting provides the necessary oversight and coverage to inform the public and hold policy makers accountable.

Most local media in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Slovenia are commercial companies, which seems to be their main problem. The capacities of the local economy are not so large that they could finance media production through advertising. Especially as more and more advertising moves to the internet, and the prices of traditional newspaper, television and radio advertising fall, it becomes increasingly difficult for local media to finance the production of local news and pluralistic and media contents by themselves. At the same time, public funding has not increased enough to cover losses on the commercial revenue side. As a result, local media are increasingly relying on financial arrangements with local governments. These, often completely non-transparent “advertising” transactions, sacrifice media independence in exchange for postponing bankruptcy. In the past year, journalists in local media in our countries have been censored and lost their jobs, as was the case when four journalists from Istarski glas (Glas Istre) were fired due to public disagreement with the editorial policy of the city authorities. Trade unions and associations have repeatedly asked the government to change the existing model of financing local media, according to which the local government directly selects the media to which it will allocate public money and decides on the amount of support. Such a funding model brings local media into a relationship of dependence by the local government holders, whose work needs to be critically reviewed. Advertisers may not have proven to be the best allies of media integrity, but for better or worse, advertising revenue has supported journalism for the longest part of its history. But, of course, this is less and less the case. Recent reports reveal that revenue from digital ads is growing even during a pandemic. The transition from general advertising from the previous period to targeted communication based on personal data for settlement purposes indicates structural changes that are unlikely to be reversed. Most of the billions are appropriated by just a few companies, sometimes called digital oligopolies, without much zeal to spend on professional journalism. The worst blows to the structural crisis of the media economy have been suffered by the weakest in the media ecosystem: journalists, especially in the local media. It is as if, in addition to the pressures of politics and crime, they need another open front. Media owners, who at least provided institutional and legal support to journalists in better times, are now turning their backs on “content producers”. This is especially evident in the context of local media and relatively small economies, such as Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia … where media owners are increasingly seeking various informal or formal agreements with local politics. At the same time, there are several initiatives for a fairer tax system that would address the problems of public revenues lost due to digitalization. Unfortunately, no one recognizes the need to return part of that to journalism.

The EFJ supports the efforts of its members in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina

and Serbia:

  • to find models for returning part of the public revenues collected through new – national or supranational – tax rules to media institutions through public subsidies. These thoughtful measures to support public policies for the common good of journalism must be detached from any influence of state, political and economical power
  • to request necessary changes in legislation on national level to ensure a transparent system of local media funding and their efforts to devise a model of public support for local media that would make them independent of the local authorities whose work they monitor and review.

 

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