Extended public funding of media content production is not just legitimate, it’s a prerequisite for the maintenance of democracy
June 27, 2017/ byDr Roddy Flynn, DCU School of Communications, dcu.ie
A day long symposium organised by the Institute for Future Journalism and Media (“FuJo”) at Dublin City University at DCU last week made the case that it is time for Ireland to consider significantly enhanced levels of public funding for all Irish media, public, private and community if they are to perform their basic functions in underpinning democracy in Ireland.
The symposium heard how this has impacted on the capacity of private media to perform their basic functions. Falling revenues have seen media outlets simply close – especially in the local and regional press. Those which remain may only be able to survive by amalgamating with larger groups, undermining media pluralism. Journalists increasingly work on a freelance or short-term contract basis, limiting their capacity to conduct long-term investigative work: 90% of Irish journalists have reported longer working hours since 2012 while their time to research individual stories has decreased.
In this context, the symposium considered novel means by which public funds might support core media functions. The audience heard a case study from Jorgen Ramskov, an executive at Radio 24/7, a Danish national broadcaster, uniquely distinguished by its status as a 100% privately-owned but fully publicly-funded and public service-oriented entity.
It was also emphasised that the design of putative support schemes should be informed by the need to protect the access of the citizenry to high quality news and media content rather than shoring up the revenues of market-driven entities. Schemes proposed included a 0% VAT rate for newspapers; increasing the broadcast licence fee from €160 closer to the EU average (€220); replacing the licence fee with a Household Broadcasting Charge (as already happens in Finland and Germany); levying a licence fee on all internet-capable devices (as is the case in Denmark); charitable status for journalism; public funding of reporter pools for court reporting; and introducing levies on Internet Service Providers and social media giants, much of whose traffic is driven by users accessing legacy media content.
The symposium concluded with a call to build a constituency between Irish media academics and public, private and community media organisations to develop a robust case for the protection of the public value in news and broader media production.