One of the main priorities of the newly-elected leftist SY.RIZ.A party in Greece is to reform the country’s media landscape. In particular, the SY.RIZ.A-led government plans to organise a public competitive auction, aimed at granting new TV channel frequencies in a ‘transparent’ way.
Several of SY.RIZA’s MPs have placed special emphasis on the term ‘transparency’ to demonstrate to the public that their policies represent a break from the stigmatized past. As Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, has argued, “Athens has never allowed (TV) stations to compete fairly for channel frequencies or subjected them to basic regulations.”
So many media figures have lost their jobs recently that it seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, when a top journalist, such as Alan Rusbridger, Guardian newspaper editor-in-chief for 20 years, resigns on his own terms.
These days few journalists seem to have the luxury of organising their own departure. There has been a wave of high-profile sackings across the industry, and some of the most brilliant journalists have been forced to look for new work.
For example, Wolfgang Buchner, until recently editor-in-chief at Der Spiegel, left the company after only 18 months overseeing the integration of the news magazine’s print and digital operations. His proposed changes antagonised Der Spiegel’s print journalists who are also shareholders in the publication. His plans were better received by the magazine’s digital journalists, but they do not hold any financial interest in Der Spiegel.
When Gergő Sáling was abruptly dismissed from his job as editor-in-chief of Hungarian news portal, Origo.hu, last June, at least half of Origo’s newsroom resigned in protest. Many claimed Saling had been sacked for refusing to stop an investigation into a government official’s travel expenses. Now, six months later, Sáling and his former colleagues are planning to launch a non-profit centre for investigative journalism, Direkt36.
Sáling, together with András Pethő, former deputy editor at Origo, and Balázs Weyer, Origo’s co-founder, is starting Direkt36 in response to growing political and economic pressure on the media in Hungary. “We chose this model because traditional media companies have been made vulnerable by the leverage that the government exercises over them, both as a regulator and a major advertiser. As a non-profit organization, we will have greater freedom to conduct independent accountability reporting,” Sáling said.
“We plan stories that will dig deep into public procurements, the use of EU-funds, a systematic reality check of politicians’ wealth declarations, the rise and fall of big companies, portraits of influential public figures and the use of state power against defenceless groups of society,” he said.
In 2015 journalism will continue to be shaped by digital technology. Virtual reality could soon enable users to wear their news, or sense it via a headset. Simple news stories will be written by robots and curated by algorithm. Digital security will become more sophisticated, to protect journalists’ sources and, as we shift away from content ownership, the cloud will expand.
Last year, politics and the economy, as well as innovation, influenced the media. 2014 was the year when some journalists became social activists, most notably in Ukraine. Major publishing companies were forced to adapt to new digital trends: integrating newsrooms and moving production from print to online. In many places, particularly Eastern Europe, advertising revenues declined amid challenging economic conditions. It was a particularly dangerous year for journalists: 66 reporters were murdered in 2014, and 119 kidnapped – a 35% increase on the year before.
To mark the start of 2015, European Journalism Observatory (EJO) partners from across Europe present their own media highlights of the past 12 months, and predictions for the year ahead.
A recent opinion piece, published on the EJO website, offered a rosy picture of the state of media freedom and of democracy in Hungary – a view that few analysts would share; in fact, many would argue that both media freedom and democracy have in recent years been deconsolidating and Hungary is being Putinised. This post will attempt to add what I believe is missing from the previous article.
The author, Szabolcs Tóth, senior writer for the pro-government newspaper, Magyar Nemzet, suggested that “foreign media ownership distorted a small market and left it highly vulnerable” and that “a newly emerging free press in Hungary was put on the wrong course by western investors. It was a course that lead to at least some of the current troubles here.”
Recent stories about Hungary in the western press have given the impression that Budapest, the capital, has been descending into a totalitarianism not seen in Europe since the invading horsemen of Genghis Khan. Criticism of the centralizing policies and authoritarian style of Viktor Orban, the prime minister, usually includes a comparison to Vladimir Putin. Orban is depicted as a ‘Victator’, engaged in a full scale war against press freedom. But let me offer you a different news angle. A story about how western investors stifled Hungary’s free press for decades after 1989.
‘Viktor Orban Steers Hungary Toward Russia, 25 Years After Fall of the Berlin Wall’, proclaimed the New York Times recently. This was only one of many articles suggesting that Hungary is on the verge of becoming a Russian satellite state.
If Hungary’s news industry is drifting towards the Putinist model of a controlled state media it has a long way to go. The most popular online news sites in Hungary, and around half of the main newspapers and broadcasters, are vehemently critical of the government. Something you cannot really call a totalitarian media landscape. However, they are all struggling with vanishing advertisers and are financially overexposed to their owners’ business interests and government PR spending.
This story is about how foreign media ownership distorted a small market and left it highly vulnerable when search engines hijack ad revenues, and social media demolish traditional news distribution.
The New York Times headline was right to refer to the fall of the Berlin wall. The year 1989 was exactly the time when a newly emerging free press in Hungary was put on the wrong course by western investors. It was a course that led to at least some of the current troubles here.
Call it desperation, or panic, but in a bid to hang on to every last cent of profit, regional and local newspapers in the US are neglecting their most loyal customers – print subscribers, according to Matt DeRienzo, a former editor at Digital First Media, writing in the recent edition of the Nieman Lab’s newsletter. DeRienzo believes that in a bid to maintain profits as print circulations fall, local legacy media organisations have generally increased subscription prices and become less accessible to their readers. “Local newspapers have gotten really good at mistreating their most loyal customers,” he wrote. Read more