Two footnote links to yesterday’s post about the slowly rising tide of opinion – particularly in America – that government should be intervening to support journalism, given that the business model which has kept private-sector journalism has broken down in many places.
I’ve made clear my doubts about this, but the point here is that the climate of thinking may be shifting. Two straws in the wind.
1) There’s an American-oriented survey of these arguments from Victor Pickard of New York University (see second item in the publications list here). Pickard is co-editor with Robert McChesney of a new collection of essays arguing that there may be a “fleeting opportunity” in the US to re-open the debate about whether the public authorities should come to the rescue of ailing news media. I suspect he’s whistling in the wind, but we’ll see.
2) One of Africa’s leading investigative journalists, Anas Aremayaw Anas, devotes an essay on africanews.com to the issues raised by the support he has had from the authorities in Ghana, where he works. I don’t know his work (and his piece is empty of links to his work) and it’s not clear how much of the support he enjoyed was financial. (Can any reader help me here?) But the kernel of his argument is that private-sector media have diluted and weakened the ability of journalists in Africa to reveal corruption and misgovernment in African societies which sorely need such information.
It would be impossible to argue from my perch here in Britain, where the tax-funded BBC enjoys high levels if use and trust, that subsidised journalism is all bad and to be avoided at all costs. But there are two issues which the advocates of thinking-the-unthinkable about subsidy are avoiding.
- The key is the mix. Many societies have evolved media systems which combine highly regulated journalism (usually broadcasting) with less-regulated or unregulated news (usually print or online). This tries to have the best of both worlds and often succeeds. So the question that matters is: exactly how much subsidised media might you want in your system?
- My second worry is related. Journalism is looking for new business models which work in new conditions. Offers of subsidy will weaken and undermine that search by making it less important.