As the print medium faces a steep decline in advertisement revenue in the wake of the economic slowdown, the debate over whether business interests or editorial content should dominate the content in newspapers continues to take centre-stage.
The issue — which formed the core of the Annual Press Freedom Round Table on the theme “Free Press: what good is a mission without a business?” — evoked a lively discussion at the 62nd World Newspaper Congress that began here on Monday.
Though the discussion was centred on the way governments in different countries were creating obstacles to the freedom of the press, speakers were united in supporting a model that enabled profitability of the organisation without deviating from the mission of a free press.
The nearly four-hour discussion featured this year’s Golden Pen of Freedom award winner Najam Sethi of Pakistan, managing editor of The Guardian Chris Elliott, chairman of the Board of Mail & Guardian, South Africa, Trevor Ncube, publisher of El Periodico, Guatemala, Joze Ruben Zamora, CEO of Krestyanin, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Irina Samokhina, and Morocco-based Tel Quel and Nichane publisher Ahmed Benchemsi.Mr. Ncube asserted that the biggest defence to press freedom was profitable media, as “that bottom line is what defends you.” A weak media, according to him, was susceptible to corruption and the government’s pressure, and “we also need an environment where publishers don’t have influence on editors.”
Favouring a coherent commercial strategy in the light of increasing costs and the steep decline in advertisement revenue vis-À-vis the cover price, Mr. Elliott said the relation of press freedom with business strategy was like tectonic activity, rubbing between the plates, and that the two should go hand-in-hand.
Mr. Benchemsi, whose presentation in a lighter vein drew applause from the audience, explained how his publication worked as a revealing media rather than a combating one. “We do risk measurement every week. We keep writing about powerful people, but simultaneously publish their best photographs so that they don’t bother about what is written inside,” he said, throwing the participants into peals of laughter.
Mr. Sethi explained that though there was little censorship in Pakistan and the media was relatively free, the main stream media had no problems with heady concoctions like religious nationalism and the rise of political jihad. “In addition, there is no sense of responsibility, which is resulting in negative consequences of press freedom which is unintended,” he said.
Mr. Zamora described how he had been consistently harassed by the military for championing free press in his country and the attacks that were made against him. “My children left the country and I don’t want them to return.”
Keywords: print media, advertisement revenues, economic slowdown, editorial content, business interests, free press: what good is a mission without a business?, World Newspaper Congress, Najam Sethi, Chris Elliott, Ahmed Benchemsi