by Cherian George
In May 2021, Singapore Press Holdings announced that it would hive off its media business into a non-profit company, SPH Media. The government said it is “prepared to provide it with funding support to help it build capabilities for the future”.
There is a long tradition of public funding for media in democracies. The need for it has grown in recent years due to the digital disruption to the journalism’s old business model. The challenge is to ensure that such funding does not have political strings attached.
The following are some open access resources that the public may find helpful when engaging with this topic.
1. Why the kind of public interest journalism that citizens need tends to be undersupplied by commercial media. Such journalism can be considered a public good, and a case of market failure.
- Victor Pickard (2015) “Conclusion: Confronting Market Failure”, in America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform, 212-231. (PDF download)
- Victor Pickard (2017) “Can charity save journalism from market failure?”, The Conversation, 28 April 2017.
The strengths of independent public-funded media as a vehicle for good journalism. Research shows that, compared with profit-driven companies, public service media are better at cultivating citizens who are more knowledgeable about national and world affairs, and more resilient against disinformation.
- Stephen Cushion (2021) “Are public service media distinctive from the market? Interpreting the political information environments of BBC and commercial news in the United Kingdom”, European Journal of Communication.
- Council of Europe (2019) “Public service media in the context of disinformation and propaganda”, Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 2255.
- Stephen Cushion (2018) Public Service Media Contribution to Democracy: News, editorial standards and informed citizenship, European Broadcasting Union. (PDF download)
- James Curran et al. (2009) “Media System, Public Knowledge and Democracy: A Comparative Study”, European Journal of Communication. 2009;24(1):5-26.
3. Risks and limitations of government funding of media.
- Marius Dragomir (2018) “Control the money, control the media: How government uses funding to keep media in line”, Journalism 19(8):1131-1148. (PDF download)
- Kecheng Fang & Maria Repnikova (2021) “The State-Preneurship Model of Digital Journalism Innovation: Cases from China”, The International Journal of Press/Politics, 1-21.
4. How to ensure that public service media serve the public interests without political and commercial interference. Key points: build independent governance structures; provide long-term and not ad-hoc funding.
- Toby Mendel (2011) Public Service Broadcasting: A Comparative Legal Survey, Paris: UNESCO. See, in particular, the sections on “Independence”, “Funding”, and “Regulatory Challenges”.
5. How to provide private media with public funding in ways that do not compromise editorial independence. Key points: funding agency should be free of political influence; provide transparent eligibility criteria for funding; minimise discretion in allocation.
- Corinne Schweizer, et al. (2014) Public Funding of Private Media, Media Policy Brief 11, LSE Media Policy Project. (PDF download)
- James Deane, et al. (2020) Achieving Viability for Public Service Media in Challenging Settings: A Holistic Approach. London: University of Westminster Press.