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26th Feb 2024

European reporters' unions want EU to back journalism as ‘public good'

  • If art galleries can be funded, so can journalism, say unions (Photo: DRB62)

In response to the crisis of journalism in Europe, journalists' unions from across the continent are to launch a campaign to press the EU to encourage member states to strengthen the sector.

If governments can fund theatre and art galleries to protect cultural pluralism, they say, they can fund journalism to protect information pluralism as well.

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At its annual meeting in Istanbul, the European Federation of Journalists, which represents unions from 24 countries, resolved to push Brussels to respond to the crisis that is seeing media revenues in a "spiral of decline."

"A toxic mix of editorial cuts, precarious working conditions and unethical journalism has created a spiral of decline for media and democracy in Europe," said Arne König, the organisation's president.

Specifically, the unions plan to lobby the European Commission and MEPs to push EU member states "to open up national debates on strengthening journalism as a public good."

The unions' main worry is the collapse of how to pay for journalism when advertisers are deserting the sector.

The multiple closures of newspapers throughout Europe and slashing of the number of staff in newsrooms means that journalistic standards are rapidly declining, and with them, the checks and balances journalism provides to democratic societies.

In particular, say the unions, publishers and broadcasters have targeted editing, investigative and specialist news reporting.

"Answers need to be found, particularly to the funding crisis," said Mr Koenig.

Speaking to EUobserver, EFJ general secretary Aidan White said that the unions are to press the commission to establish a high-level expert group to analyse the consequences of the decline of the sector on European democracy and develop a series of proposals "to construct a common EU approach to media."

"From Sweden to Portugal, the sector is treated very, very differently. The idea of a common European media culture so far is a false one unfortunately."

"EU policy makers have not done enough to protect standards, to protect ethical journalism."

"We are absolutely saying that a debate on public funding must be opened," he added. "Governments across the bloc are very comfortable with funding art galleries, theatre, ballet and opera in the interest of cultural pluralism. They should not shy away from similar funding to protect information pluralism."

The unions however stressed that any public solution should not endanger journalistic freedom: "There must be no compromise over editorial independence or the need for credible and ethical journalism," Mr Koenig, also the president of the Swedish Union of Journalists, said.

The organisation lays the blame for the crisis on the splintering of advertising and audiences online, reducing profits.

In response, "employers are throwing standards out the window in the battle for readers and audiences, meaning more celebrity journalism and less coverage of local government, fewer foreign bureaux and so on," Mr White continued.

"They are trying to sell newspapers no matter what."

So the unions have said the second element of their strategy is to target newspapers and broadcasters that "are abandoning the field of quality and standards in journalism," he said.

The EFJ members also say they are concerned about the growing use of free content produced by "citizen journalists" and amateur photographers.

"Journalists are angry that employers are using unpaid amateurs via the internet to fill holes in editorial content," the group said.

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