It has been a busy Spring for Policy watchers. The DCMS ran a Consultation on decriminalising TV licence evasion (following a 2015 review), while the DCMS Commons Select Committee ran an inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting. Public Service Media (PSM) is under intense scrutiny in the current political environment, and now seems to be almost continually in review. However, the pandemic has seen television viewing habits change across Europe, with the European Broadcasting Union reporting that “the more dramatic the crisis becomes, the more citizens turn to PSM TV”, with broadcasters also seeing a surge in the numbers of young people turning to evening television news.
The Media Democracy Festival, organised by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC), was due to take place at Birkbeck, University of London, on 14 March 2020. Due to Covid-19, the festival had to be cancelled in its physical form. In its place the MRC has organised a series of online seminars, including those on: Media, Race and Religion (with speakers Maya Goodfellow, Rizwana Hamid, Omega Douglas and Narz Massoumi); Zombie Economics, Post Covid-19 and The Media (Grace Blakeley, Noni Makuyana and Mike Berry); and Social Media Platforms (Lina Dencik, Nathan Schneider and Alaphia Zoyab). You can find the full series of talks on the MRC’s YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/3hxI4d1). The MeCCSA Policy Network has had a relationship with the Media Democracy Festival over the last few years, and these seminars were supported by the MeCCSA Policy Network, and funded with contributions from MeCCSA.
Network event collaborations during Covid-19
In the below section we report on the ongoing joint initiative between the MeCCSA Local and Community Media Network and the MeCCSA Policy Network. Following the cancellation of our one-day conference ‘Reappraising Local and Community Media’, due to take place at Coventry University on 26 June 2020, we have instead been running a series of research webinars. So far these have attracted dozens of participants, who have engaged in lively question and answer sessions with the speakers.
Victor Pickard Webinar, 6 May 2020
Our first session took place on 6 May 2020 with Victor Pickard (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, USA) who spoke on ‘Imagining a Post-Pandemic Future for Local Journalism’. Pickard’s talk engaged directly with the crisis facing commercial local media and journalism, and the acceleration of that crisis by the Covid-19 crisis. He argued that the roots of the current crisis lie way beyond the impact of a disease or even the advent of Facebook or digital technologies. Instead long-standing failures in the structure of profit-making media and the inaction of policy-makers to intervene have led us to the point we are at now. He posed the question of what should be done differently in the future to create the kind of local media democracy needs – a debate which promoted a stimulating set of questions and thoughts from the audience.
Jonathan Heawood Webinar, 3 June 2020
Our second session took place on 3 June 2020 with Jonathan Heawood (Public Interest News Foundation), who spoke on ‘Local News – The Role of Independent Media’. Discussing the work and findings of the Public Interest News Foundation to date – an organisation that is “working in partnership with colleagues in the UK and around the world to understand the unique contribution that independent news providers make to society” – Heawood outlined how small independent news providers are struggling to stay afloat, especially due to massive financial losses as advertising revenue has collapsed. However, many of these providers have continued to publish public interest journalism about the pandemic. Heawood went on to discuss some of the ways in which these news organisations have been adapting to the new political-economy during the pandemic, and what the outlook is for the sector.
Clare Cook Webinar, 1 July 2020
Our third session took place on 1 July 2020 with Clare Cook (University of Central Lancashire), who spoke on ‘Re-modelling revenues for web-indigenous journalism’. The webinar saw Clare argue that while web-indigenous journalism is playing an increasingly prominent part in the UK media ecosystem, finding a sustainable revenue model is the biggest challenge. Clare set out how that while open access publishing tools make starting independent journalism relatively easy, finding the money is more time-consuming and complex, and many are still built on rather fragile revenue models facing very real and serious conditions. She showed how there are multiple opportunities for symbiotic partnerships and collaborations with advertisers, audiences and business within the sector. Drawing on empirical data, Clare argued how often-overlooked iteratively discovered resources in the business ecosystem can contribute to the sustainability of web-indigenous journalism as resource-constrained sites.