The Press is in Peril. Here’s How to Save It

Mark Rice-Oxley | 03 May 2023
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Jailed, murdered, censored, banished, blocked, sacked, downsized: journalists are under attack across the world, and the free press is in peril.

Media freedom is poor in 70% of countries, whether because of state oppression, violence, financial rout, censorship, nefarious tycoons or murderous gangsters.

And that’s before we even get to the challenges posed by AIs and ChatGPT.

This matters. The key role of a free media is to challenge those in power, which helps to make a better society. To let it die is to let dangerous men such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump spread their toxic versions of reality.

Reliable information is a public good. But the evidence of decline is all around us.

An investigative journalist in Colombia is shot dead. A correspondent in Moscow is arrested on so-called “espionage charges”. A new law in Turkey threatens to add to the hundreds of journalists already jailed for doing their job.

It doesn’t end there. A journalist in the Amazon (and Guardian contributor) is brutally murdered. Russian and Belarusian independent publishers are forced into exile to preserve their titles, and perhaps their lives.

India raids BBC offices after a documentary that the government doesn’t like. Physical attacks on journalists in Mexico multiply. The free media in Hong Kong is almost completely dismantled. Governments in Poland and Hungary use a mix of powers to subdue critical news organisations.

Reliable information is a public good. But the evidence of decline is all around us

In richer nations, the pressures are largely, but not exclusively, financial. The regional press in the UK is hollowed out by cost-cutting, a “Hunger Games for journalists”, as one reporter put it. The story is similar in Australia, where rural community papers are a dying breed. In the US, where local newspapers are lost at a rate of roughly two every week, people speak of “news deserts”.

What is to be done? Today marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom day. It is not a moment to celebrate. The past decade has not been good for media freedom.

But if there is a ray of hope, it is this: it has never been easier for all of us to help. To subscribe, contribute, donate or otherwise underwrite the work of reporters and editors who want to tell audiences the truth, to hold power to account, to stand up to oppression and censorship.

This is the basis of the Guardian’s financial model. And it unambiguously works. Seven years ago, we took the decision to keep all our online journalism free for everyone, but to ask people who could afford it to support us financially. More than 1.5 million people do so, across the planet. As a result, our revenue from our readers now amounts to more than half our total income.

This not only means we can afford to publish journalism available to all. It means we can remain independent, beholden to no one, free from commercial or political influence, unafraid to challenge powerful people who might otherwise apply financial pressure.

It’s a model that has now been adopted by countless startups around the world. Today we are publishing short pieces by nine journalists from Russia to India, Hong Kong and Turkey. They speak of their work and tell of how tough it is to do it. We have worked with some of them, helping them to elaborate a reader-funded strategy similar to our own. It’s working for them too.

So often, we read about depressing news developments, unsure of how we can make a difference.

Funding journalists like these is a small, but significant action we can take. Democracy will be healthier as a result.

Mark Rice-Oxley is the Guardian’s executive editor for supporters.

This article was originally published on The Guardian.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.