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State financing and its impact on print media

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 10 December 2012 - In many countries media pluralism is impossible without state financial support. Today ARTICLE 19 issues a policy brief examining the role of state aid to print media from a freedom of expression perspective.

Newspapers have an important role in society, providing the means by which different cultural and political voices are heard. However, often the media cannot play their role for financial reasons. As a result, many European countries have enacted legislation providing for direct and indirect state aid to the print media.

The policy brief analyzes various state aid systems throughout Europe, providing general background information on state subsidies, including the types of subsidies offered, as well as the history of subsidies in Europe and the justifications for and effects of those subsidies. The report also analyzes state aid to print media from a free speech standpoint and recommends 'model' legislation that is in line with international standards on freedom of expression.

The recommendations of this policy brief are focused on state actors and aim at the promotion of media pluralism, cultural diversity, equal treatment, independence and transparency. States have a positive obligation to adopt such a legislative framework as to enable the right to freedom of expression and the right to have diverse and independent media to flourish.

Some of the key recommendations regarding regulation on state subsidies are:
• State subsidies should be provided to print media in accordance with the law.
• The law on print media subsidies should have as its objective media pluralism and the maintenance of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the press.
• The law should provide that direct or indirect subsidies shall be allocated in a fair and neutral manner. The law should explicitly prohibit that the eligibility of subsidies depends on the political content or viewpoint of a newspaper.
• If the state decides to indirectly subsidize the print media, the subsidies should be available for all newspapers and magazines.
• Direct subsidies, if available, should be distributed by an independent body on the basis of fair and neutral criteria.
• A newspaper should be able to appeal to court decisions refusing direct subsidization.
• The body allocating state aid to print media should submit a public annual report to parliament on the manner in which it utilizes public funds.
• Regardless of their legal form print media organizations receiving state subsides should be audited annually like corporations and make public they audited accounts.

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