The Irish Times view on World News Day: Hold the front page

The occasion is not just an acknowledgment of journalism and its necessity, but a warning that all is far from well

For World News Day 2020, Irish Times Crime Correspondent Conor Gallagher talks about Ana Kriégel murder trial. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

In marking the third annual World News Day today, 100 news organisations across the globe are setting out the case that “news” matters, that news is more than entertainment or advertising – though it can be all – and that news is an essential oxygen supply empowering citizens, holding authority to account. And in doing so, sustaining democratic societies, a vital counterweight to political and economic power.

The day can also serve as tribute to legendary Sunday Times editor Harold Evans who died last week, and who epitomised the power of journalism to shake up society in campaigning that brought justice to the victims of the Thalidomide drug and exposed drug trial cover-ups by the Distillers company. He also fought important battles against state censorship.

“Were it left to me to decide,” Thomas Jefferson once said, “whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The occasion, however, is not just an acknowledgment of journalism and its necessity, a mutual self-congratulatory pat on the back, but a warning that all is far from well, that news and journalism are critically threatened. These challenges to their sustainability come from a wide range of legal/political constraints, whether Hungary’s overt censorship, increasing challenges to “facts” by Trumpian regimes, deadly attacks on journalists from the Philippines to Mexico, or the more subtle but chilling effects of Irish defamation laws. But also from the fundamental erosion of the news media’s economic viability.

A paradigm shift has taken place in newspaper advertising economics globally, with spending declining by 60 per cent since 2007 and, exacerbated most recently by the coronavirus crisis, expected to be down another quarter to €27 billion by 2022. Yet from 2015 to 2020 spending on digital advertising more than doubled to €140 billion.

The markets of digital platforms are not completely comparable, but significant parts of their revenue, and hence advertising base, are attributable to the dissemination free online of news expensively gathered by news organisations. The long-term viability of the latter will depend on ensuring that digital giants contribute a share of advertising revenue to ensure the survival of the traditional media, recognising its vital role in allowing us to talk to and about ourselves, to scrutinise decisions made by us and for us and, in parallel, identifying the bad and celebrating the good.

The Government has promised a review of the issues faced by Ireland’s many media platforms. That must include urgent consideration of the means to guarantee the survival of news organisations, from a long-awaited review of defamation laws, to making digital platforms contribute to news gathering costs, and to reducing taxation.

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