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The Fix Weekly Digest: How (Not) To Help The Media

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you five important news stories from the world of media — and try to put them in a wider context.

This week we have observed two major examples of government support to the struggling media industry. In France, legislators approved a plan to incentivize new subscriptions to newspapers and magazines with tax credits. Under this measure, a household which subscribes for a first time to a general interest newspaper or magazine will be eligible for a €50 tax deduction. (The plan does not subsidize specialist magazines and does not cover renewing current subscriptions.)

In Australia, the government is moving forward with the plan to provide $50m government funding to local media. According to The Guardian, 107 applicants have been deemed eligible to receive grants; the list includes newspaper publishers, as well as radio and television broadcasters.

Issues with freedom of speech are most notable in developing countries without strong democratic institutions — but obstacles for covering coronavirus are much broader. According to the new analysis by Reporters Without Borders, “nearly half of UN member countries have obstructed coronavirus coverage”, that is at least 90 countries,.

As the authors note, “none of the world’s regions has been spared the temptation to restrict or control coronavirus coverage”, not even developed democracies such as Germany and Italy. This statistics also highlights broader declines in media freedom in some countries, with coronavirus being used as an excuse for cracking down on press rights.

Facebook is changing its algorithm to give more weight to verified original news content, while downgrading news stories with unclear origins. The social network will use AI to analyze news stories and thus assign weight to their distribution. For now, the measure will be confined to English-language stories.

As reported by Axios this week, Facebook “has long been criticized for not doing enough to elevate quality news over hyper-partisan noise” and is trying to counter this criticism as the 2020 presidential election in the United States is getting closer.

BBC England has cut 15% of its workforce, in addition to previously announced BBC job cuts for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The news comes as BBC needs to cut spending in the wake of financial losses and make way for savings.

In the meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK launched a radio station called Times Radio, which is widely viewed as BBC’s competitor in the field of radio. As The Guardian notes, “there are signs the government is supportive of the challenge to the BBC’s dominance of speech radio [as] [UK Prime Minister Boris] Johnson granted the station his first live broadcast interview in months”.

On the other side of the Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal has announced Noted, a monthly publication for a younger audience. 

While WSJ is a respected and popular newspaper, its readers are typically older people, partly thanks to its focus on business and conservative leaning. WSJ has been struggling in attracting more young people over the past years. Its new project, an Instagram-friendly digital magazine, has set out an attempt to reach them.

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