The consulting firm Deloitte examined media usage behaviour during the corona-related restrictions as part of the Media Consumer Survey 2020. The study authors report that online news particularly benefited during this time and many media users continued to read even behind paywalls. Just under a third of the increases turned out to be sustainable.
While the German media grapples with declining circulations and generating new digital business models, many free and independent media outfits in Europe and the world are coming under pressure in other ways. In the last year of the Trump administration, verbal attacks on media professionals were part of everyday life in the USA and they reached a low point around the election date and with the storming of the Capitol in Washington. It is to be hoped that the arrival of the Biden administration will allow the independent press to regain a higher status which will ensure respectful interaction.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the situation remains critical for the media and journalists in some countries. In December 2020 the Polish oil company Orlen, a good quarter of which is owned by the state, announced its intention to take over 20 of the country’s 24 regional newspapers by buying up the media group Polska Press. A law on the “repolonisation of the media” is currently being prepared, which would make it impossible for foreign owners to control media. In the EU member state of Hungary the remaining independent media also face growing state restrictions. The last independent radio station (Klubradio) had to cease broadcasting. The country now ranks 89th out of 189 countries worldwide in the “press freedom ranking” of the organisation “Reporters Without Borders”. In Slovenia, government head Janez Janša is exerting increasing pressure on the media. He described critical reporting by the Slovenian news agency STA as a “national disgrace”.
The relationship between media and the multinational platforms remained tense in 2020, but it brought forward many new developments. In Germany, the implementation of the European Copyright Directive into national law was the subject of intense discussion. Among other things, this would oblige the platforms to pay the media for rights. At the same time, Google launched “News Showcase”, its own curated news platform which does pay for media content. Numerous German media have joined “News Showcase”. Facebook has also announced further bilateral media programmes. In Australia, a conflict between Facebook and the Australian government escalated following an amendment to the law designed to force platforms to negotiate fair payments to media. This conflict was resolved in early 2021 after Facebook and the Australian media reached agreement on a framework for commercial arrangements.
Many journalists paid for courageous work with their lives in 2020. “Reporters without Borders” reports a rise physical attacks against media professionals in many countries. Across the world, 50 people were killed specifically because of their journalistic activities. The most dangerous countries were Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. A total of 387 media workers were in prison worldwide in December 2020 – 117 of them in China alone. The tragic climax was the execution of the Iranian blogger Ruhollah Zam. For the first time in 30 years, a media representative was subjected to the death penalty. Germany itself was able to improve its global freedom ranking from 13th to 11th place.
The corona crisis has made it clear that the majority of citizens in the Federal Republic have a high regard for independent journalism. Trust in the media reached a new high compared to previous years. A study conducted by Infratest dimap on behalf of broadcaster WDR between September and October 2020, showed that 67 per cent of people considered German media information to be credible. This represented a gain of six percentage points compared to the previous year.