5.) Governments can experiment with new business models, too. News organizations that loom too large are never a good thing, even if they are public broadcasters. In 2010, the Danish government announced that it would be taking one of the radio stations away from DR, the national public radio network, and putting it up for auction, with the goal of injecting some competition into the marketplace. Foreign companies had previously tried to compete, but all had failed when put up against DR’s generous funding and advertising-free programming. So the government proposed an experiment, an entirely new model for public service radio that was essentially a public-private hybrid. It would be owned by a private company but receive public money, while operating under strict requirements for the types of public service programming it would air.
The resulting 24-hour news and talk network, Radio24syv, launched last November. It’s much smaller and leaner than DR (it has 35 full-time employees to DR’s 3,000), and its CEO and editor in chief, Jørgen Ramskov, hopes that he can use new technology and new production methods to encourage innovation throughout the radio industry. “We’re not so focused on stealing audience,” says Ramskov, “we’re more focused on increasing the overall [market] for talk radio.”
The US government does not have nearly as much oversight over our media landscape as the Danish government has over Denmark—nor would increased control here be a popular move. But there is an argument to be made for the government playing a role in carving out spaces for new media experiments and, together with private-sector investors, throwing those experiments some money. The Knight Foundation and its counterparts can’t, and shouldn’t, be the only ones fostering foster innovation in the news industry.
6) Journalists and whistleblowers should have strong laws protecting them. Sweden’s first Freedom of the Press Act is older than the United States, and is widely cited as the world’s first law of its kind. Today, the Principle of Public Access in the Swedish constitution requires that all court records, documents, and communications within the government be available to the public. Government employees are encouraged to provide information to journalists, and punishing them for doing so is prohibited.
What’s more, adds Tom Moring, journalism professor at the Swedish School of Social Science, Swedish shield laws are so strong that if a journalist publishes information from an anonymous source, it is actually against the law for anyone to even ask the journalist to reveal that source. (A CJR colleague learned all the ins and outs when Julian Assange tried and failed to ingratiate himself with Sweden in 2010.) Swedish laws protecting journalists and whistleblowers are perhaps the strictest, but the whole region has a similar strong tradition. “In Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, the idea of the publicity of official documents is holy,” says Moring. “This transparency is a very crucial part of our society.”
U.S. shield law is toothless by comparison. The nonprofit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press keeps a list of reporters jailed for refusing to reveal confidential sources to prosecutors. Judith Miller probably got the most attention for going to jail for 85 days in 2005, but she wasn’t the first, and she won’t be the last. Also underreported are the fines that courts levy against individual journalists who stay silent. Journalists should not be punished for doing their job. Sweden knows it. American policymakers should learn it, too, and strengthen shield laws for reporters and editors. Perhaps then the US could rise above its current lowly rank of 47 (tied with Argentina and Romania) in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.