Lack of independent media funding is a major cause of news desertification around Europe
The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Pluralism (CMPF) published their preliminary study, “News deserts in Europe: assessing risks for local and community media in the 27 EU Member States”. The study, carried out as part of the Local Media for Democracy (LM4D) project, illustrated that one of the main causes for the desertification of accessible independent media throughout Europe is the lack of adequate and sustainable funding for media organisations.
For the scope of this project, and in line with the methodology adopted by the Media Pluralism Monitor, the CMPF developed a comprehensive and Europe-specific definition of news deserts and initial assessment of the phenomenon, specifically for under-served communities. The preliminary study outlines the main challenges for local newsrooms and journalists, as well as for community media. It incorporates relevant data collected for the 2023 Media Pluralism Monitor, which provides valuable insights into the current media landscape across Europe.
The study outlines that it is difficult to assess the exact extent of the crisis of local and community media, especially on the side of demand (audience), and for certain media sectors; research about local news audiences is quite insufficient. Nonetheless, as local and community media navigate the opportunities and setbacks of the digital transformation, their existence continues to be challenged. Local and community media sustainability increasingly needs to rely on financial support from the state (MPM 2023), but subsidies are not granted to these categories of media everywhere in Europe, or not under the same criteria.
There is often a lack of funding and financing for local and community media, forcing them to turn to bigger groups, such as larger media conglomerates, government or political parties, to support their economic viability. Economic disruption of local and community media seems to reinforce dynamics of political and commercial capture, such as through direct media ownership and control by politicians or business interests. The consequences include lack of editorial independence, excessive concentration of media ownership and the unfair and non-transparent distribution of public subsidies and state advertising. These concerns, and more, are attributes of creating news deserts – or at-risk areas of news deserts – for many localities and communities around Europe.
The CMPF is currently also engaged in data collection with country teams across Europe to map the risks and emerging news deserts on the continent and will publish a more extensive report following this preliminary report by the start of 2024. The final report will present a comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by local and community media outlets, particularly in underserved regions, as well as outlining best practices developed by policymakers, editors and journalists to tackle such challenges. Read more about the methodology here.
This study was conducted as part of the Local Media for Democracy project, which also features a call for grants for local, regional and community media that is open for applications. The deadline for submissions is on 28 September 2023. More information is available on the Journalismfund Europe website, who is administering the grant.