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Special Report: Reviving News Media in an Embattled Europe

Freedom House conducted in-depth research and interviews with nearly 40 media professionals and experts in six countries: Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland. The countries vary by market size and by the health of their democracy, but all are part of the European Union (EU), where members are debating important regulatory measures to protect media independence and pluralism under a proposed European Media Freedom Act. Freedom House examined four conditions affecting the playing field for independent news media and their role in democracy: their ability to sustain themselves financially, reach and engage diverse audiences, earn public trust, and play a watchdog role.

The report found several areas of promise. In the face of economic coercion, Hungarian outlets such as Telex, Klubrádió, Átlátszó, Partizán, and Direkt36 have turned to crowdfunding, microdonations, and membership schemes, or formed nonprofit foundations to collect taxpayer donations. These efforts consciously use financial transparency to earn donors’ (and readers’) trust. Digital outlets like Mediapart and Les Jours in France and Il Post in Italy have also focused heavily on cultivating audience revenue, earning trust and credibility by embracing transparency and adhering to strong ethical standards.

While these bright spots hold promise, the challenges journalists and media managers face are broad and systemic. It will take holistic solutions to ensure environments where independent media can continue to flourish. The report concludes with a series of recommendations to European institutions, governments, funders, and civil society organizations. The learnings from this research have global implications for how democracies can revive media’s ability to play a constructive role in democracy.