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Real journalism doesn't come free of charge

21st February 2017

At the touch of a button, today’s consumer can access press content from anywhere in the world: any place, any time, on any topic on any platform and any device. They can interact and comment on what they read and share it with their friends and family. They can engage with the journalists and other commentators and take part in online debates and conversations.

Today’s European consumers can enjoy thousands of different newspaper and magazine titles: different languages, cultures, interests, hobbies, local, national, international, opinions, investigation, news, sport and entertainment. And much of this, they can access online – for free.

News consumption patterns are changing. In 2016, the Reuters news report found that almost half of US adults said that they receive their news via Facebook and, for every group under 45, online news is now more important than television news. For 18–24s social media (28%) comes out ahead of TV (24%) for the first time with print lagging behind at just 6%. Across the sample, 44% of respondents say that they use Facebook for news.

So far, so good: publishers have responded to the digital revolution with 24/7 content creation and distribution on every platform and every device. Newsrooms resemble tech companies and their staff have technical skills undreamt of 20 years ago. Meanwhile, editors are driven by the integrity of the press and its contribution to free speech and democracy. Politicians aim to protect media pluralism and agree on the importance of a free, independent press to democratic society. The press continues to deliver on all that; but here’s the problem: content may be free to access, it is not free to produce. How do publishers continue to finance this 24/7 delivery of professional content?

Advertising? Because third party aggregators and internet platforms systematically copy and re-use publishers’ content, readers generally bypass the original publication site, making it a challenge for publishers to sell advertising on their own websites. The internet platforms are happy: they monetise publishers’ content.

Meanwhile, publishers and their trusted brands are struggling. Publishers cannot finance their professional, fact-checked content. Publishers can no longer employ the journalists and support staff. Publishers cannot finance their foreign news desks and war correspondents. Publishers cannot afford freelancers and photographers. Publishers cannot continue to produce their content in print. Publishers close down. No more professional content on the internet. No more investigation, enquiry and political accountability. No more independent press. There are already significant job losses and closures every month. The market is dysfunctional. Consumers are unhappy. Democracy suffers.

Steps must be taken urgently to enable every player in the content creation and distribution cycle to co-exist. Consumers need to play their part, but, importantly, at EU level, publishers need a legal backstop to enforce their online copyright and negotiate a fairer share of the advertising revenues. There is far too much at stake for the press to fail.

Gerald Grünberger, Managing Director, VÖZ, Austria, said: “Whoever wants to live in a functional and democratic Europe in the digital age has to make a strong contribution to the protection of expensive quality content.”

Get involved in our initiative, www.empower-democracy.eu, if you are committed to a democratic Europe with a independent and pluralistic media landscape.

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