News media retain their leading position

Media/ Kuva: Jonne Renvall
Despite digital platforms and all sorts for crises, news media have not lost their importance as an information source for citizens.

According to the international Media for Democracy Monitor (MDM) survey, the demand for news remains high, and leading news media continue to serve modern democracies well.

The most pronounced weaknesses and deficits among all indicators concerned gender equality, the job security of journalists, and the concentration of media ownership.

For the MDM report, researchers gathered information from 18 countries worldwide and used democracy indicators to investigate the media situation in those countries. The report is the second of its kind; the first one was published in 2011.

Professor Josef Trappel from the Euromedia Research Group of the University of Salzburg in Austria supervised the study. The Finnish part of the study was done by Marko Ala-Fossi (Tampere University), Johan Grönvall (Arcada), Kari Karppinen (University of Helsinki), and Hannu Nieminen (University of Helsinki).

Watchdog role is strong

According to the survey, journalists’ self-perception as the watchdogs of the powers to be continues to be strong with most journalists identifying themselves as investigative journalists. This norm, which is crucial for democracy, is also embedded in the mission statements of newsrooms. The resources necessary for investigative reporting are available in most newsrooms and most countries.

Compared with 2011, the nine countries covered by both surveys made significant progress in respecting the national codes of journalistic ethics, providing citizens access to news processes, and ensuring rules and practices that concern internal pluralism.

Only Sweden succeeds in equality

According to the report, the most pronounced weaknesses, and deficits concern gender equality in media content. No country reported full respect for gender parity and awareness, and two countries even disclosed that gender equality as well as the fundamental rules concerning gender equality in reporting were not respected at all.

Furthermore, gender inequality within newsrooms still constitutes a major problem for democratic norms and values. On average, only 59 per cent of all the scores describing this indicator were fulfilled, and only Sweden is a positive role model for other countries.

Both findings constitute a clear and unambiguous call for newsrooms to review and reconsider their internal practices.

Concentrated ownership, precarious jobs

The high level of media concentration at national, regional, and local levels is critically challenging the diversity of news. In about one third of the countries, competition appears to be weak with very few media conglomerates controlling the news media markets.

Despite earlier hopes and the vested optimism of some media companies, digitalisation has not delivered much to balancing media ownership concentration at the regional and local levels.

The job security of journalists is a great concern throughout the sample. The researchers did not find it surprising that no country reported a high degree of job security. Even as many as half of the countries reported frequent changes of employment and only occasional long-term employment relationships.

The MDM is a longitudinal study of media’s contribution to democracy. In 2011, the first report was edited and published by media researchers and political scientists from 10 countries. For this new report, experts from 18 countries compiled a set of indicators on media performance in the decade that was characterised by digitalisation spanning from 2010 to 2020, with final results published in April 2021.


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