The revelations of the past few weeks have demonstrated not only the pivotal role of journalism but also its vulnerabilities. As independent reporting has sought to keep the public reliably informed of the unfolding crisis from day to day – and with its revelations playing a major role in the way the story itself has unfolded – other sections of the media have been woefully inadequate in fulfilling the public’s need to get as full a picture as possible of the situation.
It is therefore encouraging that Opposition leader Adrian Delia has called for State funding of journalism and the dismantling of political party media.
Media outlets owned by political parties have become a public liability and a disservice. They serve to foster intense partisanship and practically kill any form of critical thinking. They also compete for limited financial resources while generally undermining public-service journalism. Overall, party media undermine trust in the media more widely.
In this situation, the issue of limited financial resources becomes even more acute. A combination of falling advertising revenue and expectation of free content online has put journalism in an unenviable position.
There is insufficient funding for all the investigative work needed
Put frankly, there is insufficient funding for all the investigative work needed and for the more well-researched articles to be put together, which takes considerable time.
Despite its weaknesses, journalism proved itself especially in 2019. It raised hopes that criminal and political accountability will be shouldered and that, further down the line, structural changes will be made to strengthen our system of governance.
It has also come at the cost of a journalist’s murder. While independent journalism is generally living up to its public-service credentials, public-service media can only perform its role faithfully if it is put on a stronger footing so that it may, in turn, earn greater credibility. For that to happen, the media has to be freed from the drags of partisanship and underfunding.
To this end, Delia’s proposals for the parties to dismantle their media and agree on State funding of journalism are something of a breakthrough and eminently worthy of discussion.
It is to be hoped that Labour Party leadership candidates will also take up the mantle. For this to happen we need to ensure we have a politically fair state broadcaster. The discussion must include the government’s opaque allocation of advertising revenue, which has led to compromise in some quarters of the independent media. Full transparency would be needed where government advertising is concerned.
At the same time, any funding of public-service journalism would need to be made through an autonomous set-up that would administer the money in a well-regulated and transparent manner. It would need to be in the hands of trusted people to ensure the government of the day is not able to use it to manipulate the media.
Beneficiaries of such funding would have to abide by standards of journalistic objectivity – journalism backed up by factual research, verification of claims or allegations, and fair comment practices.
It would be essential to have these clear criteria to ensure that State funding would strengthen and improve journalism as a public service.
Discussion of these proposals should form part of the wider debate to come on the reform of governance structures from top to bottom.
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