LONDON – Press freedom and independence, a staple ingredient of democracy worldwide, is declining at an alarming pace, according to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. But the transparency and vigilance that a free and independent press provides are critical not only to democracy; they also serve as powerful weapons against forces, ranging from corruption to bad business practices, that undermine economic prosperity. Simply put, without high-quality journalism, achieving better, stronger, and more robust economies is not possible.
Every day brings examples of the threats, and in some cases attacks, that the press increasingly confronts, whether from authoritarian leaders or as a result of nonviable business models. Either way, at a time when we need serious investigative journalism and intelligent analysis of economic trends and business activities more than ever, the capacity to deliver them is rapidly being eroded.
One problem is that, with print advertising in terminal decline, media companies are finding it harder to subsidize the long-term research that in-depth reporting typically requires. Yet, by identifying and bringing to the fore issues that may influence political agendas and public life for years to come, the impact of such reporting can be enormous.
Consider Reuters’ 2012 investigation – requiring months of meticulous research – into Starbucks’ tax-avoidance scheme. The journalist Tom Bergin analyzed years of complex documentation to discover, expose, and explain the ins and outs of how the company was circumventing local taxation in the countries where it operates. His investigation triggered an avalanche that continues to reverberate around the world today, as many other multinational companies come under scrutiny. And research like that does not come cheap.