Media subsidies for democracy

The so-called Dyremose-commission has just released its recommendations for the future media subsidies in Denmark. Previously, online newspapers haven’t been entitled to receive state subsidies as the money were set aside for print and broadcast media; this is an arrangement that has generated a lot of criticism. Now, the commission recommends that the money should be distributed in accordance with the production of original content, i.e. the more journalists a media organization employs, the more subsidies is should receive. This is clearly an invitation to vitalize democracy by strengthening journalism and publicist activity. No one can oppose this aim. One kind of news media, however, appears to be quite negatively affected, namely the free daily newspapers: according the the commission’s calculations, metroXpress and 24timer (both owned by Metro International) will each lose approximately 14 m DKK (a good 2.5 m USD) each year while the subsidy for Urban (owned by Berlingske Media) remains the same.

In my master thesis Gratisaviserne som politisk ressource [Free Daily Newspapers as a Political Resource] from 2009, I argued that free daily newspapers could serve an important democratic function because (1) they are the most-read newspapers among the members of society with the lowest income, the shortest education, and the hierarchically lowest jobs, and (2) their political content contains sufficient information to enable its readers to follow and (to some degree) understand the political processes. I concluded that:

All things considered, the free daily newspapers are to be regarded as a political resource to a certain degree; especially the political content of Nyhedsavisen is enabling political citizenship. Still, the political content of the free daily newspapers do not match the standards of Jyllands-Posten, whereas it is actually better than the political content of Ekstra Bladet. (p. 1)

Nyhedsavisen is no longer published but to the extent the remaining free daily newspapers still have readers among the disadvantaged groups (and I unfortunately have no recent statistics on this aspect of readership) a weakening of this particular kind of news dissemination is not unambigiously a strengthening of democracy.