The role of government policy in journalism can vary substantially across nations; as in 21st century the primary policy issues surrounding journalism have evolved as technological changes have dramatically configured—and in some cases threatened—the position of traditional journalistic institutions and given rise to new journalistic forms and organizations. In nations such as the United States, where the commercial model of journalism production has long predominated, we have seen a pronounced expansion in recent years beyond a policy focus on how to maintain sufficient competition and diversity among the organizations that produce journalism (i.e., ownership regulation) to also include consideration of possible policy approaches to preserving and protecting traditional journalism organizations in the face of a much more challenging economic environment. Thus, policymakers have considered options such as legislation allowing commercial newspapers to convert to nonprofit status, as well as engaging in more rigorous governmental assessment of the functioning of local journalism ecosystems and the ways in which news consumers’ critical information needs are being met. In this latter case, the question of what, if any, policy responses may emerge from such investigations has remained unclear and a source of significant controversy. In nations with a stronger tradition of non-commercial, publicly supported journalism (the focus here is primarily on western Europe), key 21st-century policy issues have included media freedom and pluralism, with particular emphases and mechanisms for protecting journalists and for ensuring ownership transparency and diversity. There have also been comprehensive reassessments of the structure and functioning of public service media in order to ensure that these institutions are effectively evolving in response to the changing media environment in ways that maximize their ability to serve media users’ information needs. Issues of journalism ethics and performance have found their way into the policy agenda as well. This has most notably been the case in the United Kingdom, where revelations of illegal mobile phone hacking by British tabloid journalists led to a formal government inquiry (the Leveson Inquiry) and recommendations for the creation of a new, independent governance structure with significant sanctioning and dispute arbitration authority. An important concern that is only now beginning to emerge (particularly in Europe), one that may ultimately take form as a dominant journalism policy issue, involves the question of the increasingly influential role that digital intermediaries (social media platforms, search engines, mobile applications) play in the process via which journalism reaches news consumers. Here, the emerging concern is whether some more formal and authoritative governance structures are necessary to ensure that these intermediaries have positive rather than negative effects on the flow of news and information within communities.
Philip M. Napoli and Sarah Stonbely
Questions of media trust and credibility are widely discussed; numerous studies over the past 30 years show a decline in trust in media as well as institutions and experts. The subject has been discussed—and researched—since the period between World Wars I and II and is often returned to as new forms of technology and news consumption are developed. However, trust levels, and what people trust, differ in different countries. Part of the reason that trust in the media has received such extensive attention is the widespread view shared by communications scholars and media development practitioners that a well-functioning media is essential to democracy. But the solutions discussion is further complicated because the academic research on media trust—before and since the advent of online media—is fragmented, contradictory, and inconclusive. Further, it is not clear to what extent digital technology –and the loss of traditional signals of credibility—has confused audiences and damaged trust in media and to what extent trust in media is related to worries about globalization, job losses, and economic inequality. Nor is it clear whether trust in one journalist or outlet can be generalized. This makes it difficult to know how to rebuild trust in the media, and although there are many efforts to do so, it is not clear which will work—or whether any will.
Mart Ots and Robert G. Picard
Due to its function as a watchdog or fourth estate in democratic societies and a variety of commercial challenges, policy-makers have undertaken initiatives to support the production and distribution of news. Press subsidies are one such policy initiative that particularly aims to provide support to private news producers. Paid as direct cash handouts or indirect reduced taxes and fees, they exist in some form in almost every country in the world. Subsidies are not uncontroversial, their effectiveness is unclear, and their magnitude, designs, and areas of application, differ across nations and their unique economic, cultural, and political contexts. After periods of declining political and public interest in media subsidies, the recent economic crisis of journalism, and the rising influence of various forms of click-bait, fake, native, or biased news on social media platforms, has brought state support of original journalism back on the agenda.