Can journalism still be saved? | #mediadev | DW | 10.05.2023
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World Press Freedom Day

Can journalism still be saved?

At World Press Freedom Day in New York, DW Akademie and other leading media development organizations debated "radical approaches to saving journalism." As it turns out, there are at least a few glimmers of hope.

New York | World Press Freedom Day

German Minister of State Anna Lührmann highlights the importance of free press at the UN headquarters

"We have to ask ourselves whether we have failed," Carsten von Nahmen, managing director of DW Akademie, stated at the beginning of a side event in New York. He confronted the roughly 100 experts from all regions of the world with a self-critical approach. "We are seeing the old business model of journalism collapse in many places," he said, adding that there is a threat of a "mass death" of smaller, independent media in particular.

"Perhaps what we are doing is too little – and too late," he considered. 

Erich de la Fuente of Florida International University also had little positive to report from his recent studies of media systems in Latin America. He said that even in democracies such as Argentina and Chile, media professionals are increasingly subject to repression. "We need to counter these attacks on democracy early," he stressed.

Moderators Ayman Mhanna, head of the Samir Kassir Foundation, and Laura Moore from DW Akademie

Ayman Mhanna, head of the Samir Kassir Foundation, and Laura Moore from DW Akademie moderated the discussion

DW Akademie organized the panel discussion together with leading partners in media development, including the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), Columbia University, BBC Media Action and the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States. The meeting was moderated in a dynamic fishbowl format by Laura Moore, head of Research and Evaluation at DW Akademie, and Ayman Mhanna from the Samir Kassir Foundation in Lebanon. 

Journalism alone cannot save journalism

The initial statements of the session were followed by a passionate discussion on the future of independent journalism, media freedom and the role of international media development. Around 25 speakers took their turn on the microphone throughout the course of the event. They pointed to new ideas that are currently gaining momentum.

Fishbowl discussion with experts

Leading media development experts reflected on media viability challenges in an interactive format

One key question that was debated: To what extent does it make sense to keep media companies in developing countries afloat through direct financial support? Khadija Patel from the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM) and Meredith Moloughney from the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) outlined their funding models. Overall, it became clear that funding transparency, human rights approaches and broad systemic strategies are needed to strengthen media systems in the long term. Participants pointed out that money alone is not enough and can often lead to conflicts of interest.

"For sure, journalism alone will not be able to save journalism," stated Nick Benequista from CIMA.

A more viable media from within

Zoe Titus, director of the Namibia Media Trust, stressed that multi-stakeholder approaches are needed to develop healthy media ecosystems. Actors from administration, politics, business, civil society and academia need to join forces to tackle the challenge. Yet, of course, journalists themselves also need to take part and act on behalf of their own interests.

DW Akademie has started an initiative with partners to improve sector coordination on the understanding of media viability as well as approaches to strengthen it. For example, Media Viability Indicators (MVIs) are used as a framework to assess the bigger picture of media viability and identify the weak spots where action is needed.

From left: Carsten von Nahmen, Laura Moore, Zoe Titus

From left: Carsten von Nahmen, Laura Moore, Zoe Titus

New regulations for tech gigants

The debate in New York developed into discussions on regulating large tech companies like Google and Meta. Journalists considered the benefits of enacting new laws to force the companies to forfeit a small percentage of their advertising revenues to media outlets. News media "bargaining codes" of this kind have already come into law in Australia and Canada. Anya Schiffrin, Professor at Columbia University, sees a huge potential for saving journalism. "Many small media outlets have received money and are now hiring new reporters."

Ninik Rahayu, chairwoman of the Indonesian Press Council, reported that Indonesia wants to follow suit. Likewise, Brazil and South Africa are also considering enacting their own set of codes, offering glimmers of hope for media outlets.

Caroline Vuillemin from Fondation Hirondelle pointed to an aspect of media regulation that can also come from within the news industry. The Journalism Trust Initiative, founded by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), creates a framework for self-assessment of media houses. This mechanism may help to identify news outlets that can be trusted by their audiences and are deserving of new forms of support.

Protecting journalism starts with protecting journalists

Yet efforts to advance media viability will only succeed if the issue of media safety is tackled at the same time.

World Press Freedom Day - Matthias Kiesler

Matthias Kiesler, head of the Department for Media Policy at the German Federal Foreign Office at the meeting of the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) in New York

In several events at World Press Freedom Day in New York, it became clear that a growing number of governments around the world are coordinating to protect media professionals. Germany is involved in the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), an alliance of more than 50 countries working together to promote media freedom. Matthias Kiesler, head of the newly established Department for Media Policy of the German Federal Foreign Office (AA), announced that, in becoming a new member of the MFC's Executive Group, Germany wants to set new priorities. At the official ceremony for UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day in the large plenary hall of the UN headquarters on the East River, Anna Lührmann, minister of state for the AA, reported on the launch of Germany's "Hannah Arendt Initiative" to protect journalists worldwide. 

The special challenges of journalism in crisis regions and in exile were the subject of an event jointly hosted by the AA and UNESCO. Here, too, it became clear that on the one hand, greater efforts are needed to ensure the viability of media organizations. On the other, new ways to protect media professionals from reprisals and within conflicts are needed so that they can continue to do their work. The discussions in New York underlined, again, that both are different sides of one coin.

Quoting historian and political philosopher Hannah Arendt, Minister of State Lührmann underscored the importance of media freedom for all human rights: "The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen."   

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