The other crisis

Juan Luis Manfredi. Professor. IE School of Communication/IE University

7 September 2009

The crisis in the communication sector in turn threatens to weaken democracy and calls for a shakeup to eliminate the dual funding of public television.

The Spanish Federation of Journalist Associations estimates that around 4,000 direct jobs have been destroyed in the sector over the last two years. The problem involves more than the simple restructuring of a traditional industry, mature markets or the appearance of new technologies and new types of readers. The boom and decline of the media, especially the written press, is associated with the level of political development, governance and the promotion of transparency. The greater the level of development of the private media, the lower the level of political and economic corruption. Consequently, the crisis in the press sector is tantamount to the crisis of democracy. With the way the system works at present, the media are fundamental for the public discussion of matters of citizen interest, ranging from political and economic information to leisure and entertainment. Each time a medium disappears, the voice of a collective, that of a stakeholder or a voter is silenced. If there were no media, they would have to be invented for the facts (sacred) and opinions (free) to be known, according to the mythical aphorism of C.P. Scott, editor of The Guardian for 50 years.

The media industry is at the height of a redefinition process. It is the result of the fall in advertising, estimated at between 15% and 30%, and there is an urgent need to take measures to recover the sector. The plan drawn up by Nicholas Sarkozy to restructure the written press offers short-term solutions and increases dependence and spending on institutional advertising, raising the total cost of the plan to €600 million over a period of three years. What if we invert the terms? Instead of increasing public spending, let´s reduce the spending on public radio and TV to realign their corporate importance as media with current demand. Public television is no longer the paradigm of information, leisure and entertainment. Except for the BBC, no European public television leads the audience ratings. In Spain alone, and perhaps in Italy and Greece, public television competes for the commercial targets and the most important sporting events and pays massive sums to large advertising businesses. By way of example, if we look at France, the measure that will lead to the elimination of night-time advertising on France 2 and France 3 will free up 450 million from the advertising pie. In Spain, the same decision would represent around €500 million invested in advertising, which would be redirected at private players, strengthen the current media groups and enable the consolidation of new groups. Objectivity, if it exists in journalism, is necessarily subject to economic and financial independence. Only through free competition and the freedom of choice of readers and viewers can the media respond to its public and its shareholders. The European Commission, which is alarmed by the "excessive advertising" on private television, would do well to foster the reduction of redundant public spending, the disappearance of advertising dumping and manipulation.

The coming adoption of the new General Audiovisual Act must meet the significant challenges facing a sector that plays a key role in the knowledge economy, and in the promotion of Spanish as an economic resource, as a tool for public diplomacy and as a pillar of democracy. The current crisis, which will be leveraged to bring about an economic catharsis, could also put an end once and for all to the anomaly of dual finance for commercial purposes.

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