Two years into the pandemic, news organizations large and small continue to face major challenges: volatile revenue sources, changing reader behavior and blatant government attacks. As the pandemic drags on, the effects of emergency relief programs and long-term efforts to build resilience, whether successful or not, are starting to affect the journalism industry around the world.
In the new report “Rescue Journalism 2: Global Strategies and a Look at Investigative Journalism” published by the German Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung, we take a look at what interventions have driven progress, what still needs to be done and what obstacles remain. The report is based on a 2021 study that analyzed the many measures to support journalism introduced at the start of the pandemic, such as philanthropy, new business models, taxes on technology platforms, and government subsidies.
Here are some of the findings and comments from industry leaders interviewed at the time of writing the report.
Requiring tech platforms to pay news outlets: legal precedent in Australia
In February 2021, Australia passed a Media Code requiring tech companies – notably Meta, which owns Facebook, and Google – to pay media outlets for content published on their social platforms. Although the formal agreement was kept secret, Australian media organizations received at least A$200 million, according to Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Richard Dennis, chief economist at the Australia Institute think tank, believes the Code is working despite the two tech giants initially lobbying and threatening to cut off the country’s users from their services. “Google and Facebook didn’t leave Australia as they threatened. A lot of money changed hands and there were a lot of journalistic jobs. The sky didn’t fall to earth.”
However, as Dennis noted, not all news organizations benefited equally from the introduction of the Code. “The code does not provide for universal equality. Google and Facebook were forced to negotiate, and large publications receive much more money than small ones.”
This uneven distribution of money reflects the ongoing tension between large, established publications and smaller, more niche organizations. While journalism has been better funded in recent years, larger and more traditional companies often benefit more from new programs or policies. The main challenge in developing effective public policy remains to meet the diverse – and sometimes competing – needs of both large publications and small local media.
In other countries interested in adopting their own versions of the Australian code, the threat of new legal action has forced Facebook and Google to allocate additional funds for the development of journalism. In France, Google agreed to pay more than $76 million to 121 French news publishers over three years, in addition to a $593 million fine for negotiating in bad faith with news publishers. In Canada, Meta announced a three-year investment of CAD$8 million to support Canadian journalism, as well as partnerships with 18 news organizations in an initiative to “promote the long-term sustainability of Canadian journalism.”
While acknowledging that such payments from Meta and Google are better than nothing, the experts interviewed said that a tax on technology companies would be a more effective solution to the problem than the Australian code, which has its drawbacks. In their opinion, the imposition of additional taxes on these companies or online advertising, in which part of the income will be directed to support quality, demonstrating citizenship journalism, will provide more transparent, independent control over these funds. “A tax on Google and Facebook would be the best option, but the Conservative government will not tax Google and Facebook,” Dennis said. “We had a unique opportunity to impact these companies on a global scale.”
Andrew Jaspen of The Conversation said that an alternative to state taxes could be “a voluntary agreement with Google and Facebook to pay a ‘fee’ to an independent fund,” which would correct deficiencies in the journalism market, such as poor coverage of rural or regional news and news, related to the courts, the police, local governments, and would also fund specialized reporting on topics such as science, health and the environment.
Tax incentives and government measures: France and Indonesia
In July 2020, the French government introduced a one-time tax deduction for new subscribers to support the losing media industry. However, this rule came into force only almost ten months later: in May 2021. It complemented the wide range of emergency and comprehensive economic measures and funds earmarked for recovery, with total assistance estimated at 483 million euros.
While these measures have indeed helped support the struggling news industry, the French Senate report calls for deeper changes in the industry to help the media adapt to changing readership habits and reduce reliance on public funding, which poses a risk to the independence of media organizations. Prior to the industry recovery plan, state aid to the news industry already accounted for more than 20% of the sector’s revenue, a figure that has risen by six percent over the past decade. As the report highlights, major changes are needed to prevent public aid from becoming an increasingly important source of revenue for the news industry, masking deeper structural problems associated with declining distribution and an overemphasis on print over digital.
As my colleague Matthew Reisio-Cruz reports, in July 2020, the Indonesian government announced subsidies and tax incentives for journalism. Value-added tax for print news organizations was abolished, media electricity bills were deferred, corporate taxes were reduced by 50%, and media workers earning up to 200 million rupees ($14,000) a year were exempted from income tax. In addition, the government has supported the media with direct payments, subject to a certain amount of material published monthly on COVID-19, such as topics such as social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks.
Not everyone liked this policy. Some thought she saved the journalism industry during the pandemic, while others objected to the government’s direct influence on what topics will be covered in the media. M. Taufikurrahman, editor-in-chief of Indonesia’s largest daily English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Post, believes that cash injections in exchange for content helped its publication. “From an organizational point of view, it helped us survive during the pandemic,” he said.
Information taken from https://ijnet.org/en/story/whats-working-globally-save-journalism.