26th Nov 2020

Top editors alarmed by media cuts in EU and beyond

  • Journalists covering an EU summit in pre-pandemic times in Brussels (Photo: EUobserver)

The pandemic slowdown is strangling quality journalism, but that suits some governments, leading European and international editors have said.

"The situation is very difficult. We're in major cost-saving measures," Tammy Tam, editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, an independent Hong Kong-based newspaper, said on Tuesday (19 May).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"Everyone is having pay cuts and non-paid leave of three weeks. Advertising income is zero," she said.

"Advertisers don't want their name to be connected with news on coronavirus," Martin Baron, the editor-in-chief of US newspaper The Washington Post, also said.

"Subscriptions are saving us," he said.

They spoke by videoconference at the Media Council of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss think-tank, amid almost daily announcements of editorial job losses around the globe.

Wounded firms include well-known online publications Buzzfeed, Quartz, and Vice, media group Condé Nast, and even The Economist, which recently cut 90 jobs, though not editorial ones.

But the list of victims is much longer, covering also local publications and business-focused ones.

Some 36,000 media workers in the US have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had pay cuts since the crisis began, US newspaper The New York Times has estimated.

More than 150 newsrooms in Australia have also closed temporarily or permanently since January, British daily The Guardian reported.

And "even after the pandemic recedes, the likely recession to follow could hurt ad revenue for years to come," Quartz CEO Zach Seward recently warned.

There have been no similar tallies for European newsrooms, but EU culture ministers pledged more financial aid for the sector in future when they spoke by videoconference also on Tuesday.

We must "ensure support for our media sector, which is crucial for our fight against disinformation", Obuljen Koržinek, Croatia's minister of culture, who chaired the talks, said.

"I don't know how anyone can imagine this lockdown without access to online content," EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel also said, referring to both news and entertainment.

EU budgetary lifelines should be "considerably increased", she said.

But for some at the WEF meeting, national governments were crying crocodile tears.

"In Paris, work is more difficult without working lunches. But officials are happy to be left alone, with fewer journalists around," Sylvie Kaufmann, the editorial director of French newspaper Le Monde, said.

French president Emmanuel Macron had taken to inviting just three or so French journalists to his briefings on EU summits, but none of them were reporters specialising in EU affairs, she said.

"In Brussels, it's also problematic: No more doorstep questions, no more journalistic pressure," Kaufmann added.

"Working for journalists has become more difficult in Asia, eastern Europe, and the US. Governments are making use of the situation to make journalism more difficult," John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of the US-based Bloomberg news agency, said.

"Access to information is also a victim of the coronavirus pandemic," Tom Gibson, the Brussels director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based NGO, also told EUobserver.

"The crisis has made it abundantly clear: EU citizens need reliable information as a matter of safety and public health. Yet the media is now facing a new wave of censorship," he added.

The financial situation was not ubiquitously grim, however.

The Washington Post said the pandemic had driven "a massive increase in digital subscriptions", for instance.

Tech threat

And coronavirus was just one reason for the editorial lay-offs.

Tech firms, such as Google and Facebook, gobbling up what little ad income there was left, while publishing other people's content for free was another reason, Vice magazine CEO Nancy Dubuc recently said.

Tech firms were "benefiting and making money from our hard work", she said.

"Now, after many years of this, the squeeze is becoming a chokehold. [Online] platforms are not just taking a larger slice of the pie, but almost the whole pie," she said.

"News should not be for free. Nothing is for free," The Washington Post's Baron also said at the WEF meeting on Tuesday.

"Paid online media will [have to] increase," Bloomberg's Micklethwait predicted.

"The response of EU institutions to the pandemic will also need to be framed in terms of protecting journalists around the bloc, and this needs to be urgently prioritised," the CPJ's Gibson said.


Journalism hit hard by corona crisis

An already fragile business model for journalism might be dealt a lethal blow in the corona crisis. And the freedom of the press itself is coming under extreme pressure, as governments take swift and debilitating measures fighting the pandemic.

Press freedom in Balkans better than some EU states

EU candidate countries such as Albania, Montenegro and Serbia have relatively poor press freedoms - but still fare much better than Bulgaria, an EU state whose ranking in the World Press Freedom index has plummeted.


Open letter: Covid-19 crisis threatens democracy

More than 500 political, civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions sign an open letter to defend democracy, warning that the freedoms we cherish are under threat from governments that are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power.


An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom

I hate to break it to you, but excuses have run out. You have to look at the images of sobbing journalists in Index's newsroom, and shoulder part of the blame. Your silence, your continued procrastination led to this.

Germany asks capitals to give a little in EU budget impasse

European Parliament negotiators are demanding €39bn in new funding for EU programmes such as Horizon research and Erasmus, in talks with the German EU presidency on the budget. Meanwhile, rule-of-law enforcement negotiations have only just begun.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch far-right leader resigns over antisemitism
  2. Germany to relax corona rules for Christmas
  3. New US leader against hard border in Ireland
  4. EU ties Afghanistan aid money to democracy
  5. EU drug regulator optimistic on vaccine prospects
  6. EU study warns of impact of non-CO2 aircraft emissions
  7. Cross-country MPs urge EU to protect Poles' rights
  8. MEPs adopt group-action consumer rights redress

Budget deal struck, with Hungary threat still hanging

Ultimately, the European Parliament managed to squeeze an extra €16bn in total - which will be financed with competition fines the EU Commission hands out over the next seven years, plus reallocations within the budget.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Watchdog slams Commission on BlackRock 'green rules' deal
  2. EU reaches out to nationals of migrant origin
  3. German minister predicts rule-of-law solution in 'days'
  4. EU red-flags Israel's Givat Hamatos settlement
  5. US economic nationalism will be subtler - but it will persist
  6. Georgia's 'rigged' elections? Takeaways for the EU
  7. There is 'no Russia-Turkey alliance'
  8. EU air quality improves, but pollution levels still high

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us