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The Fix Weekly Digest: The State of Media Freedom

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.

The state of media freedom in Belarus was never great, but the recent events have marked “one of the worst media freedom crackdowns anywhere in Europe in recent decade”, according to the International Press Institute.

The total number of journalists and media workers detained since the beginning of the protests has reached over 170, and some 20 people have been deported, “not to mention numerous allegations of beatings and rights abuses by police and security forces”. Over just the past few days, several journalists were arrested and/or sentenced to a period of detention for allegedly participating in unauthorized protests.

Media freedom watchdogs have seen the situation in China deteriorate as well. For example, in what The New York Times calls “the tensest episode so far in a period of tightening conditions for foreign journalists in the country”, the last two Australian journalists in China were forced to flee the country fearing detention.

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How to fight the decline in media freedom? Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is trying to do that by reopening its operations in Hungary.

The US government-funded media network ceased its operations in Hungary after the end of the Cold War but announced its return in 2019 and launched this week as “declining media pluralism and disinformation degraded the information landscape” in the country.

The launch of “Szabad Európa”, as the publication is called in Hungary, is part of a broader expansion by RFE/RL in the region. Bulgaria and Romania, which also have issues with press freedom, saw RFE/RL return in 2019.

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This week, Julian Assange has been generating media headlines as he faces a court hearing in London which decides on Assange’s potential extradition to the US. The American government accuses Assange of leaking sensitive classified intelligence and wants him to face trial in a US federal court. The hearing in London resumed on Monday.

The news has reignited the discussion over whether and how the concept of freedom of speech relates to Assange’s case. While his story is not clear-cut (the US government claims that WikiLeaks publishing classified military and diplomatic documents put many lives at risk), numerous journalists, human rights organizations and freedom of speech champions — such as Amnesty International — have called on Britain to reject the extradition request.

Sony Music, one of the world’s biggest music companies, is investing heavily in podcasting. This week, it announced plans to release around 40 podcasts, with 100 more original programs in development. As Bloomberg reports, “the move represents the biggest investment in podcasting to-date by a major music label”. It also shows the growing relevance of podcasts for the music market. 

Recently, streaming service Spotify has emerged as the biggest player in the podcast industry. According to Bloomberg, in this context podcasts might represent a threat for music companies’ bottom line — “the larger [podcasting] gets, the less reliant Spotify is on music” — but also an interesting opportunity for new earnings.

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Another booming sphere in the media: gaming coverage. For years, reporting on gaming was mostly limited to niche outlets, but recently the field has caught the eye of major publications, including Bloomberg and The Washington Post. According to CNN, “these publications and others are looking to capitalize on this booming industry with the same rigor they’ve shown in reporting on Hollywood and Silicon Valley”.

Partly, the rise of gaming coverage has the pandemic to thank. The pandemic-induced lockdowns caused a significant growth in the popularity of gaming in general, in turn generating more media attention. Big traditional outlets are looking to serve both avid gamers and the general audience which tries to figure out why and how games are becoming increasingly relevant.

Photo on the cover: ClemRutter/ CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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