Happy World Press Freedom Day!
Truth is, it’s more an UNhappy day. Newsrooms are clearing out and thousands of journalists are no longer on the job, no longer reporting back from legislatures and courts or the rest of our worlds. Misinformation and disinformation is rife.
“As the [COVID-19] pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres
The press is expected to provide the antidote – but countless news outlets have closed, almost everywhere. COVID-19 has worsened a pre-existing existential and economic crisis.
This crisis has been building for a couple decades – since government deregulation allowed a few oligarchs to take over most journalism outlets, since technology changed, since Google and Facebook and other digital companies mined all the ads that used to pay for reporting. Since the public accepted and copies (sometimes unconsciously) the bullies’ talk about “fake news” and “the media” and their war on journalists – while those who gain by untruths promoted news that arguably really IS fake, like Fox and the raft of “Proud” web sites.
These trends, in the “West” and most notably in the English-speaking countries, are in addition to the abusive and censoring regimes where journalists are persecuted and prosecuted and often shot dead for being messengers.
Fact is, “free” is a four letter word in our field: there’s almost no money anymore to sustain real journalism. People say, do it for the exposure – but in the real world, people die of exposure.
Most unhappy thing of all today? The public, who journalists used to think we served, have proved most don’t care, almost none stand up to defend journalism, and very very few support us with a few pennies for subscriptions.
Even journalists, never good at defending our craft and famously loathe to organize, have bought the story. Journalists routinely talk down “the media” (any media other than their own), and routinely ignore paywalls to share/steal news stories on social media like Facebook and Google, which profit from the attention and give nothing back to those who produce it.
“Press freedom day” is a sad joke, considering the press is dying of starvation and neglect and abuse.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Happy World Press Freedom Day!
The United Nation’s theme this year is Journalism without Fear or Favour. Click here for the page, the campaign, and a host of links.
Somehow, I’m not feeling any less fearful for my craft.
We appeal to the leaders of the digital platforms and social networks who have acquired wealth and power online to commit to a decisive transformation that favors reliability of information and platform accountability based on democratic principles.
Committee to Protect Journalists: Constant tracking of press issues globally.
The Canadian Journalism Project mapped the impact on newsrooms of COVID-19.
Alan Rusbridger, chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, on British journalism in our time of COVID-19:
” .. the crisis has also highlighted some more deeply embedded structural, economic and conceptual problems about journalism in this country. The structural and economic ones are familiar enough – the lingering death throes of the daily printed newspaper; the dramatic decline in associated advertising revenues; the reluctance of people to pay for news.
“More worrying in a way are the metrics on trust. Nearly all surveys – pre-Covid and today – show a similar picture. A lot of people still rely on mainstream news, but consistently place journalists as the last people they would place their faith in. … this crisis feels like a decisive moment in how citizens think of mainstream news – especially if we think of Covid as a dress rehearsal for climate change.”