The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications recently called for submissions to its inquiry on the future of journalism. In the context of the Covid-19 crisis – in which we have seen a huge decline in advertising revenue combined with a massive spike in demand for quality news – supporting independent and critical journalism is especially significant. The MRC’s submission considers reasons for declining trust in journalism, highlights the concentrated ownership which distorts values and content, and maps out a future for public interest journalism based on a new settlement in which digital intermediaries pay their way, the traditional press is properly regulated and in which new and diverse sources of content are privileged and sustained.
A healthy news media is often claimed to be the life-blood of democracy. This is because news provides, or should provide, the vital resources for processes of information gathering, deliberation and analysis that enable citizens to participate in political life and democracy to function better. For this to happen we need the news to represent a wide range of issues from a variety of perspectives and with a diversity of voices.It requires a journalism that operates freely and without interference from state institutions, corporate pressures or fear of intimidation and persecution.
In an ideal world this would mean that news media would survey the socio-political environment, hold the powerful to account, provide a platform for intelligible and illuminating debate, and encourage dialogue across a range of views. However, this is an ideal relationship hinged on a conception of independent journalism in the public interest – journalism as a ‘fourth estate’ linked to notions of public knowledge, political participation and democratic renewal. The reality, however, is often quite different. Identifying the gap between the admirable aspiration of a fully functioning public sphere and the conditions of practice and production of news media, and then understanding why this gap exists, is critical to discussing how journalism should be defined and what its value to society is.
The full submission is here.