The International Federation of Journalists has released a research report entitled The Changing Nature of Work: A global survey and case study of atypical work in the media industry, which surveyed 41 journalist member organisations across 38 countries, and which raises fresh concerns over the effect on media quality as the work of journalists is changing.
IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, launching the report at the 95th International Labour Organisation Conference in Geneva, said that atypical workers — freelancers, casuals, short-term workers on rolling contracts and temporary workers — make up around 30% of the membership of IFJ affiliates and this rising trend was setting new challenges in the battle to maintain high-quality journalism.
“The relationship between journalists and work is particularly important given the relationship between media and democracy,” he said. “If journalists’ employment is precarious and threatened, it is harder for them to resist pressure to shape stories to satisfy governments or commercial interests, it harder for them to carry out investigative journalism and harder to challenge management’s editorial line.”
The report, supported by the International Labour Office, documents the trend toward the privatisation of state media and the replacement of experienced senior journalists by younger graduates in non-permanent employment relationships. Younger journalists are also being hired in new areas of employment, including new media and some areas of the developing world where media ownership is expanding. As a result, journalists’ average rate of pay appears to have declined in real terms over the past five years. The rate of pay for atypical workers is overwhelmingly set by the employer and is usually a per-story fee.
Insecurity in employment and a lower rate of pay appears to be having a negative impact on the quality of editorial content and may be jeopardising the media’s role as a watchdog for society, the report says.
In particular, insecurity in employment may be contributing to a decline in critical and investigative reporting; changes in media concentration and external pressure are leading to a creeping culture of self-censorship in the news media; and increasing awareness of the costs of running a newspaper or broadcaster — and the importance of advertising — may be guiding editorial decisions; and in the worst cases, poor wages are compromising ethical reporting by increasing the potential for corruption. The key findings are:
56.1% of IFJ affiliates reported changes in employment relationships in their country in the last five years. The main trends were a move away from collective bargaining towards deregulated, individual negotiations, the increasing privatisation of state-owned media and employment of younger, less qualified journalists at lower wages.
53.6% reported that the average rate of pay for journalists had either decreased or significantly decreased in real terms over the past five years. Only 14.6% reported an increase in real terms.
73.2% reported that the rate of pay for atypical journalists was lower than the rate of pay for journalists in standard forms of employment.
Atypical workers had access to fewer rights and benefits than standard workers. Only 12.2% of freelancers had maternity leave benefits, and 9.8% to sick leave and holiday leave, compared to more than 85% of standard media workers in all three areas.
Individual contracts or short-term rolling contracts are now an issue for journalists in Australia, Argentine, Pakistan, Peru, Nicaragua and Greece. Precarious employment, unfair dismissals and working without any contract are problems in Mexico and Brazil.
Belgium, India and Hong Kong all report that young people are more likely to be employed on rolling contracts or as freelancers.
75.6% of IFJ affiliates worry that editorial content is affected by the nature of the employment relationship, specifically highlighting timid reporting due to insecure employment; a decline in critical, investigative reporting; bland news coverage due to media concentration and government pressure; and pressure on ethical reporting due to low wages.
Nicaragua, Peru, Australia, Taiwan, Pakistan and Serbia report pressure to ‘tame’ controversial stories to satisfy advertisers.
The report stresses that press freedom is vital to the maintenance of a democracy and as a check on government and contains a number of specific examples of how labour relations affect the way journalists are able to carry out their work.
In Hong Kong, for instance, many journalists find it difficult to report objectively about mainland politics because media shareholders/owners have business interests in mainland China. In Hong Kong and India, younger, less experienced journalists under pressure to renew their contracts feel compelled to toe the management’s editorial line.
The report also includes a case study of Australian media workers in atypical work based on two surveys (2003 and 2005) after retrenchments and staff freezes at major media organisations has led to an increase in the use of casuals and freelances. The case study shows a resulting rise in health problems, unsatisfactory remuneration for increased workloads and a slump in morale.
Copies of the report can be downloaded on the "reports" section on www.ifj.org
The report was supported by the International Labour Office and translation into French was supported by the EU.
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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries