CMPF Launches Report of Impact on COVID-19 on the Media in 18 EU Countries

Mazzetti Claudio, Project Manager, CMPF

The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) has released the report from a research on the impact of COVID-19 on the media in 18 European Union States. After demonstrating the key findings of the data collection and analysing differences between the countries, the report highlights the most pressing problems, describes best practices, draws first conclusions, and provides some recommendations.

The report titled: Media Economy in the Pandemic: A European Perspective finds that the news media industry has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis but foresees there are signs of hope.

The report finds that in the 18 EU countries covered by the research, revenues for news media experienced an average decrease that was beyond the GDP decrease during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decline, the report says, is driven by the fall in the advertising expenditure, which decreased by more than the percentage of GDP decrease, in all the European countries covered by the research.

In late 2020, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom ran a special, interim round of data collection to assess the impact of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic on media pluralism (MPM-COVID-19). A part of this exercise focused on indicators of media viability: it collected data on traditional revenue trends, employment and salaries, new income forms, as well as public intervention. After demonstrating the key findings of the data collection and analysing differences between the countries, we highlight the most pressing problems, describe best practices, draw first conclusions, and provide some recommendations.

There was a shift to digital platforms, the report found out, which was experienced in consumer behaviour (including an increased willingness to pay for online content), and reflected in business strategies, but it did not manage to counterbalance the decrease in advertising income.

It found that different trends were visible in different news media sectors. For instance, legacy television and radio stations, whose business models substantially rely on advertising, were severely hit, whereas video-on-demand and video-platforms benefited from the surge in subscriptions.

The research shows long-lasting crisis of newspapers and local media worsened, as they suffered hits from both sides, advertising and print sales, with the digital subscription not making up for the losses. Closures and reductions in the news media outlets were massive in the first wave of the pandemic, partly due to extraordinary measures, but were foreseen in several countries, particularly for newspapers and local media.

The digital news media performed relatively better during the pandemic, particularly the ones based on pay-models rather than on advertising.

The report says a number of news outlets started experimenting with alternative revenues – especially some form of reader-generated revenue online (such as donations, subscriptions or membership).

Although public support was available in the overwhelming majority of the countries covered, even including extraordinary subsidies, but the amounts provided to the media were however often seen as insufficient in light of the much larger pandemic-induced losses.

The report recommends that news media sector should be included in the national recovery and resilience plans, with an emphasis on incentivising investments that support the transition towards digital.

It also recommended that labour and social policies should eliminate or mitigate the dualism in the journalistic labour market. Considering also the generational gap (employed journalists are often older, while freelancing and non-standard contracts are more common in younger generations), there is a huge risk of precariousness and vulnerability for the next generation of journalists, which in turn may menace the safety of journalists and threaten freedom of information. A universal protection scheme for all journalists, regardless of their contractual status, should be studied and implemented.

Public subsidies will remain relevant, thus policy makers need to work on subsidies that are sufficient and follow the most appropriate approach. These subsidy schemes need to be based on transparent criteria to avoid capture, able to react to the changing conditions in the media environment, avoid distorting the market or creating dependence, and put an emphasis on journalism that contributes to the public good.

It says innovation should be a priority, both in news media production as well as in business models, in order to avoid the risk of financing outdated models that were already in deep crisis before COVID-19.

The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) is a research and training centre that aims to develop innovative and relevant lines of research on media freedom and pluralism in Europe and beyond, and to provide knowledge support to the international, European and national policy and rulemaking processes.

You can download the full report at HERE.