Government Funding and the Free Press
By Jay Smith
In the domain of politics and state government, the relationship between media and the state needs to be constantly examined. Journalists in the past have served to both promote politicians and government initiatives while investigating and scrutinising politicians and the government of the state. This relationship between the media and politics has changed over the last decade due to new influences in the form of new advertising and communication mediums. In this piece, I am going to discuss the inadequacy of the free press as a result of changes in the information-seeking behaviour in the new forms of advertising and communication mediums. While in the past the media has looked predominantly to the interests of the public by way of funding and creating quality investigative journalism, media organisations have had to increasingly look towards their own interests to maintain their capacity to function. The result has been the incapacity of the press to adapt and to be able to fund itself and sustain quality unbiased investigative journalism. I will be suggesting a new method by which media organisations can attain funding through assisting government initiatives while remaining neutral in terms of government influence over what the funding is used for and its bias towards or against the government. This method, of course, will require close examination and strong restrictions on government overreach that has yet to be put in place. There are a number of restrictions that need to be put in place to sustain a government-funded free press.
When writing of the concept of a free press it is important to define what a free press is, as all press organisations are ultimately governed by either the interest of the audience, editors, journalists, beneficiaries and advertisers or all of the above. Ultimately if a press organisation is not governed by an audience, beneficiaries or advertiser’s freedom, in general, is not about being able to do as one pleases, freedom is about having as few restrictions as possible where one can do as they please while abiding by those few restrictions. Ultimately a free press is unfiltered by a government organisation. A free press cannot operate under the suspicion of having its funding docked if certain information is published or not published. A free press has a right to protect its sources. However, press is always governed by the prerogative and inflection of the journalists and editors.
It is key to a functional society to have a free and unbiased media in regard to government initiatives. Media organisations have influence over public opinion which allows the media to sway elections and influence the popularity of political parties and government initiatives. A free press serves to without bias investigate politicians and government initiatives. Bias within the media in relation to politics and government initiatives serves to ignore and permit corruption within a government. When a media organisations funding is controlled by government organisation it serves to propagate a government’s message. This commonly is referred to as propaganda. The dangers involved with a society that is seduced by propaganda and a government that coverts corruption can easily be illuminated with a quick history lesson on dictatorial governments. Dictatorial governments in the past century have committed some of the worst atrocities against human rights climate change Governments that only need to pay lip service to the democratic process.
In the current decade privately owned and funded, trustable journalism has suffered from funding cuts. The age of trustable free market news organisations have suffered due to budget cuts resulting from the rise of social media that offers a cost-effective and more efficient advertisement medium to market products, services, and initiatives. Mediums such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become more effective in communicating with an audience and building trust and carrying a brand’s message to an audience. Companies whose advertising funds that once went to the media have become aware of the new trend of information-seeking behaviour. Having become aware of this, companies on a large scale have followed suit in their advertising spending habits. Leaving copious gaps in the funding of free press news organisations.
The creation of reliable and trustworthy news has suffered due to its limited profitability. Media organisations have taken to looking to their own interests in order to function and employ journalists. This has resulted in the rise of trends such as dubious news stories that have been given the name ‘fake news’ additionally advertorials in order for news organisation to function and to gain profit. Becoming a mouthpiece to propagate biased and untrustworthy news. With the advent of dwindling paying subscribers, news organisations have had to rely on the use of the advertorial where articles are written and paid for by companies to favourably promote a brand. I for one assume that all news articles freely acquired contain dubious content or advertorial. For one I believe that all journalists need to and deserve to be paid for their work, however, the process by which the journalist acquires funding needs to be examined thoroughly.
A popular method of subsidising income for news media is that of the advertisement separate from the article. This has been proven to be the most effective way of generating income for news organisations. Additionally, it is the most ethically sound method of news production. However, for those that wish to pursue paper-based news mediums of advertising, online advertising through organisations such as Facebook and Google has by far surpassed as a more effective form of advertising, with the possibility to niche partition an audience, monitor feedback and click through rates and cost per action accountability.
Politicians and governing bodies have in the past used the medium of advertising to promote their interests, political party and affiliations. This particularly is used in the run-up to elections when a politician needs to promote themselves or at the time of a referendum. The money used to purchase these services comes directly out of the taxpayer’s pocket charged to the government to foot the bill. While working for news organisations I handled sales of political advertising during peak and off-peak election seasons. The flow of funds from the government to the media directly for the purchase of advertising. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds are spent on political advertising each election cycle.
Government organisations outside of the promotion of politicians and political parties serve to create policies and initiatives that provide products and services to the people they govern. From healthcare to social welfare, social security to disability support, a government must engage its citizens to promote and markets government subsidised products and services. Government funds are spent to market products and services to see that they are used correctly and reach the right people. The question I considered was is there a more ethical way of governments putting copious amounts of money into media while remaining unbiased as to news content. A way for taxpayer’s funds to be spent on media outlets, while aiding governments in promoting their subsidised products and services.
In 2016, while working as part of the media I developed the basis for a model for news journalism to acquire funding through government initiatives while remaining relatively unrestricted as to government interference. While a news organisation can specialise in the production of news, in order to subsidise funding a news organisation can produce niche market supplementary services to raise revenue. This service can be applied to a limitless range of industries each focused around a common interest or clientele. This can take the form of a directory service supported by advertising and relevant important news and information. The supplementary services are completely separate from the news organisation however aid in funding the operation of the news organisation.
While looking for a potentially profitable niche market to advertise within I was able to gain firsthand access to the roll-out and implementation phase of a new government initiative. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) an Australian government department that provides products and services to support the disabled. The department began a new initiative where for the first time the disabled in the country’s history were able to choose from a range of registered private service providers. The department had a registered list of service providers companies whose operations are subsidised by the government. The capacity for choice allowed for a new competitive market to take place amongst government-funded companies.
The funding model which was implemented was for the media to approach government subsidised companies for advertising opportunities, while assisting in the promotion of a government initiative. This allowed for private companies to choose their prospective advertisers. The key component of choice by private organisations un-interfered with by the government allowed for funds to be channelled to a free press organisation from the government which removed the ability for government to influence the media. This allows for the free journalism to operate outside of the restriction of government interference.
The capacity for the client of government faculties to choose their perspective advertising agent under this model would allow for the associated journalists the freedom to operate within the use of government funding without government interference. This un-interfered operation of the free-market choice would provide a press free from the constraints of the interest of the government, an audience, and beneficiaries. The operation of the press under this model would appear superficially as the best possible outcome for news journalism, the alternative relying on philanthropy. However, the beneficiaries of these organisations that fund a press of this nature would have to be paid attention to.
For the funding model to operate without government interference, restrictions on government overreach need to be put in place. These restrictions will help to safeguard free press media organisations and stop funding from being manipulated by the government.
The free choice of government-subsidised businesses under the free market is key to the success of this model. Any government-subsidised companies that advertise through free press organisations need to be allowed to choose their avenue of advertisement without manipulation. Government interference at this level could allow the government to choose the direction of funding, directing funds to a favoured associated press news organisation. Laws need to be created to stop the restriction on choices by the government on government-subsidised organisation in regard to their choice of advertising service.
To further protect the free presses’ capacity to operate without restriction, more than one if not as many as possible separate free press organisations need to be involved in the assistance of advertising in relation to a single government initiative. The revenue raised from the product of advertising if not governed by the free market needs to be shared equally amongst free press news organisations. The capacity for the government to choose which media organisation to channel its subsidised funding through would allow for bias in regard to funding. Alternatively, if one organisation is to undertake the advertising and marketing of one government initiative the government has the capacity to withdraw channelled funding from unfavoured organisations.
Additionally, for a government-subsidised free press to operate transparency is key. Information is needed to be freely available in regard to details of the companies that are receiving government-subsidised funding. If a media organisation is shut out from accessing the details of a government-subsidised company, then the media organisation will be unable to receive the revenue raised through marketing and advertising the government initiative. This would be an ideal way for a government to manipulate funds and exercise bias. Openly available information is key.
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