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DC-SUSTAINABILITY COALITION SESSION AT THE WPFD CONFERENCE 2021

Posted by: Olga Komarova | 12. May 2021

As part of the World Press Freedom Day Conference 2021, hosted by UNESCO from April 29th till May 3rd, the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media (DC-Sustainability) hosted a workshop to strategise the ongoing work of the DC and discuss the links between media sustainability and digital policy decisions, with input from DC members representing Australia and the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the EU, and South Eastern Europe.

The DC-Sustainability Coalition is a hub for the press freedom, media development, and journalism sectors to engage with important Internet governance and digital policy matters within the Internet Governance Forum.

During the session, moderated by Daniel O’Maley (Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist, CIMA), Corinne Podger (Director and Principal of the Digital Skills Agency), Tanja Maksic (Project Coordinator, BIRN), Vusumuzi Sifile (Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa), Anya Schiffrin (Director of the Technology, Media, and Communications at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs), Tim Karr (Senior Director of Strategy and Communications, Free Press) and Mira Milosevic (Executive Director, Global Forum for Media Development) discussed and presented updates on journalism, tech platforms, and the future of media policy.

AUSTRALIA

In February 2021, Facebook users in Australia lost their access to news on the platform for about a week. The News Media Bargaining Code – a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms – was developed and introduced after an accident, forcing big tech companies to pay for news shared on virtual platforms.

The government watered down the bill, and Facebook lifted the ban, however, some countries in the Pacific region were affected by it. For instance, in Papua New Guinea Australian content is often shared to correct misinformation.

Journalism as an industry might draw three conclusions from this situation:

  1. Some people were keen on prolonging the ban, imposed by Facebook, as it might have forced Australians to look for news elsewhere.
  2. The ban coincided with an unprecedented learning for media industry in response to the loss of ad revenue in 2020.
  3. The pandemic has kept journalists and media professionals in learning mode, motivating them to adapt to new working conditions.

“While our industry shares challenges, there isn’t a one size fits all solution, but I do think we are seeing an emergence of one size fits all mindset…”

Corinne Podger, Director and Principal of the Digital Skills Agency

SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPEAN MEDIA

The primary advertising market in Serbia, which is worth about 200 million Euros annually, experienced a drop of 10 million in 2020. Digital revenues are the only thing marking some sort of growth, comprising approximately 40% of total local advertising market.

Being the second largest stream of revenue for media, state funding forces news outlets to submit their projects to the government to be approved for financing. However, the state’s budget for media support is mostly used to support publishers close to the government or the ruling party.

In the context of financial streams available for the media, ownership structures and concentration remain two major sustainability issues:

  • Ownership structures: outlets, related to the government, ruling party, or those who are close to the ruling party, are provided with easier access to state money.
  • Concentration issues: The local major telecom operator – a stated-owned company – is buying out media outlets and is overwhelming public broadcasters.

Although, there are no concrete policies or solutions for the above-mentioned issues yet, the policy dialogue related to them was already initiated in Serbia.

CURRENT EUROPEAN POLICY PROCESSES

The European Commission is currently working on drafting completely new pieces of legislation – the Digital Services Act and the Digital Media Act – which will have a direct impact on the media sphere and freedom of information. Although coalition partners have already commented on the two Acts and work on them is proceeding apace, there is public fear about the effectiveness of these initiatives in protecting freedom of expression and providing innovative solutions.

The long-debated terrorist content regulation proposal – TERREG – is about to be adopted by the European Parliament, with a new regulation being adopted, enabling competent authorities to delete content online. This can undoubtedly have unpleasant consequences, such as removing unwanted content under the pretext that it poses a potential threat.

Furthermore, the European Media Freedom Act has been announced, and it is expected that it will build on the existing Audiovisual Media Services Directive, providing more powers to the EU Commission to regulate the media sphere.

PERSPECTIVE FROM AFRICA

Across Southern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, there has been an increase in the use of online platforms by citizens to share and access information in the last few months, consequently challenging media outlets to go digital. Despite the positive trend in people’s willingness to use the virtual space to get news, there are still shortcomings in the quality of the news content provided by media.

There is also a growing desire on the part of the authorities to control the internet, which may result in restrictions on access to information. According to the officials, new laws on cybersecurity are aimed at fighting hate speech, but there are a lot of indications that the law may negatively affect freedom of expression online.

The majority of people in Africa still rely on radio as a preferred tool of communication despite poor signal, so there is a growing need to empower citizens to use Internet and various digital tools to engage with each other and decision makers.

THE US AND CANADA

Currently there are two bills being reintroduced in the US Congress:

  1. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which provides direct subsidies for local news subscribers;
  2. The Journalism Competition Preservation Act, which allows news publishers to work together to establish distribution and payment deals with digital platforms.

Canada is mostly focused on a Labor Journalism Tax Credit idea, which is expected to help cover the cost of labor.


Watch the full recording of the DC-Sustainability session here.

Read more about the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media here.

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