The digital shift of press subsidies in Luxembourg

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"The subsidy features two elements, one proportional at 30,000 euros per journalist, the other so called "innovation aid” is fixed at 200,000 euros"

30,000 euros per journalist

Created in 1974, the Luxembourg media assistance model was based, in addition to professional requirements, on complex calculations related to the volume of pages produced and the frequency of publication. The new law, which is due to be voted on at the beginning of 2021, abolishes any consideration of paper consumption and also now includes publications distributed free of charge. The subsidy features two elements, one proportional at 30,000 euros per journalist, the other so called "innovation aid” is fixed at 200,000 euros. At L'Essentiel, the free (and profitable) daily newspaper, they are rubbing their hands together and expect to receive a little more than a million euros a year. Maison Moderne, Mike Koedinger's group, and publisher of Paperjam, where 25 officially accredited journalists are employed, has so far received 200,000 euros of online press support. Reporter.lu, an online news medium, and the Lëtzebuerger Journal, which is no longer published in paper format, appear to be other beneficiaries of the new formula... as long as their models attract readers.  

Quality à la carte

However, the new rules do not penalise the large groups, whose maximum annual allocation may not exceed €2.5 million. The "aid for innovation" of 200,000 euros (which the Council of State has asked the government to reconsider) also remains to be specified. Xavier Bettel emphasised the need for quality information and the fight against fake news.  The system even includes specific aids for "citizen media".  Use of these tools will validate, or not, the legislator's intentions. Equating the employment of each journalist to a grant corresponding to the minimum qualified wage does not appear to be an argument for putting a true value on the profession. Being recognised as a journalist is now the key to receiving the press subsidy, and it comes with an even greater responsibility. Until a few years ago, the journalists at Paperjam were struggling to be accepted as such by a system corrupted by favouritism towards legacy publishers. Optimists see the new system as an incentive to produce quality information, free of the technical restrictions of yesteryear. Others fear a low-wage model, that might become fully internet based.

Once mostly favourable to the two major newspaper groups, the system of press subsidies is being reformed. The state will no longer penalise free publications and will even subsidise media in languages other than French, Luxembourgish or German. Written and digital media are now on an equal footing.

Historical support for pluralism

The transition between former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, an avid reader and frenetic collector of press clippings, and Xavier Bettel, a child of digital technology and an assiduous user of social networks, was bound to leave its mark. Press subsidies will not escape the trend. The project matured over seven years. Previously, the system was very favourable to the large press groups, Saint-Paul (Luxemburger Wort) and Editpress (Tageblatt), but the scheme is now being extended to free publications and periodicals (L'Essentiel, Paperjam...), and importantly to web-based publications. "Supporting a varied, pluralistic and independent media landscape in the long term is an imperative for any democratic state", Xavier Bettel explained, speaking in one of his other roles as Minister of Communications and Media. While the printed press suffers, the word "paper" disappears from the future law. Exactly 6.6 million euros have been earmarked in the 2021 budget, an amount broadly comparable to that of previous years, with regular reevaluations scheduled.