Local Media for Democracy preliminary report sheds initial light on news deserts in Europe

The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom is pleased to announce the publication of a preliminary study conducted as part of the Local Media for Democracy project. The report, titled “News deserts in Europe: assessing risks for local and community media in the 27 EU Member States“, features a literature review and methodological definition of “news deserts” in the European context. 

News deserts, commonly defined as areas with limited access to news sources, have become a growing concern worldwide. Local and community media play a special democratic role due to the closer relationship these media usually establish with the people from the areas or communities they cover. Trust is facilitated, and they usually cover issues, such as local politics and other crucial local information, that are under-represented or absent from the national media content. 

However, the local media sector is experiencing a crisis, often even more accentuated than the general crisis of the traditional media sector. This crisis is not only evident in terms of market viability and sustainability, but also of political independence, capability of offering a socially inclusive coverage of news and events, including coverage of minorities and marginalised communities, and the risks for local journalists’ safety.  

In light of this trend, the CMPF was tasked with developing a comprehensive and Europe-specific definition of news deserts, tailored to the unique challenges faced by the region. 

The preliminary study draws upon an extensive literature review on the news deserts’ issue in the European context, outlining the main challenges for local newsrooms and journalists, as well as for community media.   Importantly, the investigation considers the diverse media landscapes and democratic structures found across Europe, offering a holistic understanding of the phenomenon  based on social, economic, legal and technological factors influencing the availability and quality of local news. 

Accordingly, the Local Media for Democracy Project (LM4D) defines a news desert as an area where citizens do not receive public interest information, where their right to receive diverse and high-quality information about local social and political matters is not guaranteed, and where their “critical information needs” (Napoli, 2016) are not fulfilled. Thus, the existence of more local media outlets or news does not necessarily mean more diversified content is being disseminated. Also, a news desert can emerge not only in rural areas but also in inner cities, neighbourhoods, and suburban towns. 

The study incorporates relevant data collected for the 2023 Media Pluralism Monitor, which provides valuable insights into the current media landscape across Europe. This data-driven approach strengthens the accuracy and validity of the preliminary findings. 

The publication of this preliminary report marks an essential milestone in the Local Media for Democracy project, paving the way for the subsequent comprehensive final report. Currently, the CMPF is actively engaged in data collection with country teams across Europe to map the risks and emerging news deserts on the continent, while the call for grants for local, regional and community media is open to applications. 

The final report will present a comprehensive overview of the state of media pluralism and media freedom, shedding light on the challenges faced by local media outlets, particularly in underserved regions. By highlighting these risks, the Centre aims to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy and vibrant local and community media landscape and provide a robust assessment relevant to different stakeholders in the field. 

The Local Media for Democracy project, funded by the European Commission, aims to support local, regional, and community media in emerging “news deserts” in Europe. The project is led by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) with a consortium of partners, including the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), International Media Support (IMS), and Journalismfund.eu. The overall objective of the project is to revive the local media landscape with measures to build resilience, independence, and sustainability by improving their capacity in innovation, business strategies, and audience engagement. Ultimately, it will contribute to building an enabling environment where a pluralistic and independent media landscape in the EU can exist. 

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