The latest study by Professor Agnes Gulyas on local and community media in Europe examines the types of subnational media, their social role, and analyses the challenges this sector faces across the EU member states and five candidate countries.
In the last twenty years, local and community media have encountered significant challenges due to digital transformation and economic downturns that have hindered their capacity to fulfil their political and social functions. Based on the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) project of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Professor Agnes Gulyas has undertaken research to try to define what local and community media are, to report their socio-political importance and impact, as well as offer policy recommendations.
The first introductory part of the report exposes the difficulties in defining the variety of subnational media due to the lack of homogeneity. Gulyas identifies three main types: local news media (whose defining feature is a spatial aspect that includes elements of culture, identity, and language), regional broadcasting (covering larger geographical regions in a country), and community media, which commonly focus on serving the interests and needs of a community and are run by it. The three are entities that occur within a geographical area that is smaller than the nation-state and share political and cultural roles.
These media divisions play an important role in upholding local democracies, fostering civic engagement, and offering a diversity of viewpoints, as well as critical information for the needs of the communities. Moreover, they have the capacity to hold elected officials and those in power to account and create spaces for underrepresented groups. From a cultural perspective, they can strengthen community cohesion and identity.
The second part of the report is devoted to seven key themes that represent key issues of local and community media in the EU and the five candidate countries, namely Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. These seven issues consist of factors that threaten the health of local and community media and include fragmentation (which is reflected in policies and regulations to subnational media as a whole); political independence (in nations where media control by the state is prevalent, community media can become part of the state media apparatus. In addition, local journalists have closer ties with local politicians, where professional and personal lives are often entangled); sustainability (this sector struggles to establish a stable business model for the digital era); subsidies (areas that are economically poorer and deprived are more likely to become local news deserts); the role of Public Service Media (that often privileges a regional role, rather than a local one); working conditions of local journalists, who face more precarious conditions and increased risks to their safety since their lower public visibility and close proximity to potential sources of harm contribute to this vulnerability. Finally, the author touches upon the challenges community media face. Findings show that lack of legal recognition, insufficient long-term funding model, and a lack of shared understanding and definition of what community media means in the digital age put them in an adverse situation.
The report concludes by making seven recommendations that cover developing comprehensive data for solid evidence-based policymaking, designing better subsidy and support systems, implementing initiatives in the local landscape that safeguard editorial independence and pluralism, and establishing a legislative framework for community and non-profit local media. Other recommendations based on the analysis point to the creation of tailored programs that address the specific needs of local journalists, counteracting the phenomenon of news deserts, and the clarification of the role of local public media.