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Estonia - Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media (2009)

Estonia - Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media (2009)

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Published by OSFJournalism
This Open Society Institute Media Program study explores the impact of the financial crisis on media and news delivery to citizens in 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The global economic downturn has affected countless businesses across the region, forcing them to slash costs, lay off employees, and reduce output. Media businesses are no exception. However, when media businesses are hit, it is not just their turnover that suffers: their primary function, the delivery of news to citizens, feels the impact too.

To explore the impact of the crisis on independent media and accountability journalism, the Media Program carried out a study in 18 post-socialist countries heavily hit by the crisis: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The study looks at media performance in 2009 compared with the previous three years, explores the cost-saving measures taken by significant news carriers, and the effects of these measures on output, breadth and depth of coverage, scope of investigative reporting, and opportunities for open public debate.

Key Findings
Media across the region have lost 30 to 60 percent of their income.
Media were forced to adopt cost-saving measures, including reduced volume, staff layoffs, reduced investigative reporting, and cuts in international and provincial coverage.
Several media markets have experienced a flight of foreign investors and bankruptcies of independent outlets.
The crisis-related constraints and ownership changes have caused an overall drop in the quality of news delivery to citizens.
Media content has become shallower, more entertainment-centered, increasingly isolationist, more prone to political and business influences, and lacking in investigative bite.
This Open Society Institute Media Program study explores the impact of the financial crisis on media and news delivery to citizens in 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The global economic downturn has affected countless businesses across the region, forcing them to slash costs, lay off employees, and reduce output. Media businesses are no exception. However, when media businesses are hit, it is not just their turnover that suffers: their primary function, the delivery of news to citizens, feels the impact too.

To explore the impact of the crisis on independent media and accountability journalism, the Media Program carried out a study in 18 post-socialist countries heavily hit by the crisis: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The study looks at media performance in 2009 compared with the previous three years, explores the cost-saving measures taken by significant news carriers, and the effects of these measures on output, breadth and depth of coverage, scope of investigative reporting, and opportunities for open public debate.

Key Findings
Media across the region have lost 30 to 60 percent of their income.
Media were forced to adopt cost-saving measures, including reduced volume, staff layoffs, reduced investigative reporting, and cuts in international and provincial coverage.
Several media markets have experienced a flight of foreign investors and bankruptcies of independent outlets.
The crisis-related constraints and ownership changes have caused an overall drop in the quality of news delivery to citizens.
Media content has become shallower, more entertainment-centered, increasingly isolationist, more prone to political and business influences, and lacking in investigative bite.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: OSFJournalism on Jul 25, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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1
Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media
ESTONIA country reportCompiled by Liisa Sveningsson PastCommissioned by Open Society InstituteDecember 2009
 
FOOTPRINT OF FINANCIAL CRISIS IN THE MEDIA2
The media sector
The overall evaluation of the state of the media market ranged from “quite good” to “poor” in the focusgroups and interviews. Almost all participants reported having “lost regularity” in their consumptionhabits in print and broadcast media. Most attributed the change to a combination of the availability ofnew media and changes in traditional media content due to the economic crisis.A majority of the respondents reported feeling more alienated from traditional mass media than theydid two years ago and were convinced that the highly competitive media outlets are responding to thecrisis by aiming at the lowest common denominator of public interest. This, in turn, has brought abouttabloidization and lack of analytical or socially aware content.Almost all respondents cited the staff cuts in 2009 as the main change in the Estonian media since2007. The dominant feeling is that the cuts were made at the expense of more experienced reporters.While this is not necessarily true, it clearly indicates the public’s perception that high-quality massmedia had suffered remarkably in the crisis.It is true, though, that more resource-intensive projects (investigative reporting, work requiring travel,etc) are less likely to take place now for two reasons: first, lack of finances; and second, even if therewere resources, the decreased amount of original programming and number of pages mean thatthere is less space to broadcast or publish such content. That has lead to more plain reporting andless analysis or content that would be able to offer context. Broadcast media, including the publicbroadcaster, have concentrated more on infotainment in original programming.Media professionals interviewed informally described the acute lack of resources as detrimental totheir ability to provide high-quality content. Statistics show that print media have been most affectedby the crisis and have suffered the biggest loss of advertising revenue. The print media turnover hasfallen to the 2003 level and the GDP is comparable with 2005.Media relations professionals who were part of the expert panel further described numerousinstances where they were unable to get coverage of events that reporters/editors did see asimportant simply because of lack of resources. For example, the news-channels-only camera crewworking that day was elsewhere already. This sort of thing, combined with stopping subscriptions tonews agencies, means that the news media have increasingly become dependent on press releasesand other similar outside content creation. The Estonian Russian-language print media show an evenmore extreme trend. Apparently the financial and staffing constraints have put their editorial staff intoa position to often offer the source the possibility of writing the story instead of a journalist.
 
FOOTPRINT OF FINANCIAL CRISIS IN THE MEDIA3
While it is already clear that the real effects of the recession will be felt on the media in 2010 (manyprint and some online publications are planning further cuts in staff or number of supplements as ofJanuary, revenue is showing little or no signs of recovery in Q4 of 2009), the not-for-profit projects ofprivate media have already suffered. Ad-free supplements of newspapers that allowed for essays andlonger feature pieces have been cut in regularity, number of pages or totally discontinued. This addsto the trend of closing niche media and drastically cutting regional and international coverage on thenational news outlets, which is detrimental to the quality of public discussions.
Media content
In addition to feeling that the media content has been created by less experienced journalists, therespondents highlighted numerous other tendencies across the board (all of these were mentioned bythe majority of respondents):
tabloidization both in terms of news threshold and approach as well as headlines;
increased stereotyping of groups that are viewed as minorities (from the newly vulnerablemiddle class that might be struggling with financial decisions made in double-digit economicgrowth to traditionally marginalised sexual or ethnic minorities), in line with the general moodof the country;
the “war of rankings” has led to programming decisions to try to appeal to as large audienceas possible, introducing scandalous approaches even in the public broadcaster (a respondentreported that recently 10 minutes of the 25-minute main evening news programme was aboutTiger Woods’ divorce, while the 2010 state budget was going through parliamentaryproceedings);
the quality of investigative reporting has suffered and the respondents reported a lack ofanalysis in the media, and even the investigative pieces published or broadcast appear to bebased on leaked information;
less diversity of sources, with stories often based on one interview;
in covering politics and the economy, the respondents see a distinct absence of solutionsoffered or experts engaged in the media;
increasing lack of diversity in the media market, niche publications have disappeared, manytopics are receiving less coverage and the coverage is shallower (cultural and social issuesseem to have suffered more than political reporting);

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