The study “Uncovering news deserts in Europe. Risks and opportunities for local and community media in the EU” by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) was published today. This research detects challenges and opportunities for local and community media in the 27 EU Member States, analsysing the news deserts phenomenon from a holistic perspective.
A network of researchers spanning all the 27 EU Member States ran the investigation, using the methodology developed by CMPF. They assessed risks based on 55 variables that relate to the local media market conditions; local journalists’ safety and working conditions, local outlets’ editorial independence and social inclusiveness. The study also highlights examples of best practices in the local and community media sector that could greatly benefit a vibrant and open local public sphere.
The data gathered on the locations of local and community media was used to create interactive maps covering roughly half of the EU-27. This underscores a considerable lack of data on not only the geographical distribution of local media, but also their financial information, revenues and locally-focused audience measurements throughout the EU.
The most pressing issues concern the intertwining of decreasing revenues and biased distribution of state advertising and subsidies to local media. Another urgent concern is the political control exerted via direct and/or indirect ownership of local media, a matter particularly prevalent in Central and Southern European member states.
The decline in the number of local journalists – which is widespread across the EU – largely stems from the growing tendency of centralising newsrooms in the main cities and the prevalence of desk journalism. Unsatisfactory working conditions for local journalists are reported, especially for freelancers and self-employed journalists, and online attacks against them are on the rise.
Researchers from several countries have pointed out that there are no prominent media outlets catering to marginalised groups; there is an underrepresentation of minority groups and a lack of programmes in minority languages, especially within private local media outlets. In this regard, the role of public service media (PSM) and their local branches and correspondents proved to be key in guaranteeing access to local information.
The research also delved into the role of social media in news desert areas, new strategies of audience engagement through newsletters, podcasts and slow journalism as well as on the role of local and community media-networks for social change.
This study complements the LM4D project’s ongoing financial support to independent local and community media which is serving communities and areas relegated in the margins of news coverage. The preliminary findings of this research have informed the allocation of 42 grants to these media located or covering news desert areas.
The project draws attention to the importance of a healthy and vibrant local and community media landscape; with this study, the project provides a robust assessment relevant to many stakeholders in the field.
The report recommends public institutions to provide more financial support to local and community newsrooms and journalists, and to put in place a regulatory framework which enables a thriving local media landscape. For example, clear definitions of local and community media should be in place in order to guarantee institutional support.
Moreover, decent working conditions for local journalists should be guaranteed. The study recommends to the journalistic organisations to support the journalistic professionals working in the most remote areas of the EU member states, in guaranteeing better working conditions and support in case of vexatious lawsuits. The study also recommends that local media companies are more transparent about their ownership and revenue, and should enforce self-regulatory standards to prevent political and economic pressures over editorial content. They are encouraged to engage more with their audience in order to satisfy the critical information needs of the communities they cover.