July 30, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.

Sun closure: Businesses have no intrinsic interest in a free press

Sun closure: Businesses have no intrinsic interest in a free press
Sun closure: Businesses have no intrinsic interest in a free press

By Jonathan Starling- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

It’s an honour, albeit a terribly sad one, to be writing this last OpEd for the Bermuda Sun.  

I won’t go over the history of the Sun here; I’m sure other articles in this issue will be doing that.

Instead, I wanted to discuss the importance of the journalism, with the hope that while the Sun is setting, a new sun will rise, a new dawn for our people.

At the moment, and I think the demise of the Sun is symbolic of it, journalism, as an institution, appears to be in freefall in Bermuda today. 

And it’s not just this institution that is failing, as important as it is. Our parliamentary process and the very foundations of what passes as democracy here are in a state of collapse.

Democracy is premised on the idea that it requires an informed and actively participating citizenry. 

Such a citizenry can only exist where a strong and vibrant journalism exists — without such journalism our democracy and freedoms cease to exist in a meaningful sense.

It’s important to note here that the ‘one per cent’ generally have access to all the information they need to control, manipulate and generally rule. 

The lack of a strong and vibrant journalism is not a problem for them; in fact, it reinforces their power, and the power of organized money more generally. The less the people know about their rule, manipulation and control, the better for their power.

Without access to reliable, investigative and informed journalism, the ninety-nine per cent, if you will, are unable to access the information they need to participate effectively; in a sense, they become disenfranchised and subjugated to the interests of the one per cent.

Questions need to be asked about why journalism is in such a state; and it’s not a situation unique to Bermuda — we see this elsewhere, too.

I believe that the key factor is that commercial interests no longer see journalism as profitable. The old formula was that businesses relied on newspapers to advertise their products, and advertising revenue then supported journalism as a means to an end. 

Key tensions

Businesses have no intrinsic interest in a free press, to them it was just a means of advertising — journalism attracted readers who then saw their ads and then bought their products.

Naturally, in such a system, there are key tensions between business interests and democratic interests. There is a constant risk of editorial independence being compromised and journalism as a democratic institution being subverted as a commercial product to maximise profit — which can include manipulating the people to ensure a populace supportive of their subjugation and the capture of political power by organized money.

However, we live today in an environment where the internet and the rise of ‘smart’ or ‘targeted’ advertising, especially through social media networks, renders the utility of journalism for commercial interests moot.  Quite frankly, advertisers no longer need to support journalism or content creation at all.

Journalism should be seen not as a commercial endeavour, but as a public good, something that any democracy requires but which the market can either not provide in the necessary quality or quantity, or has no interest in providing.

If we want democracy, and the democratic journalism that allows this to happen, then it is up to the people, the ninety-nine percent, to defend and/or demand it, and take action to ensure we have it and we keep it. Establishing a democratic and publicly supported journalism is perhaps the quintessential democratic struggle today.

The goal must be to establish a non-profit and non-commercial independent press system where editorial independence is ensured and empowered.

Models of journalism subsidies exist, and all the evidence is that they make the press more diverse, more dissident and more critical, thus allowing journalism to keep the government accountable and the people empowered. 

Our journalism is in freefall, as is our democracy.  

But it doesn’t have to be — and history has shown that it is only an active and organized people that can counter organized money. 


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The Bermuda Sun bids farewell...

JUL 30, 2014: It marked the end of an era as our printers and collators produced the very last edition of the Bermuda Sun.

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