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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Journalism, democracy and freedom

The author states that the defense of democratic values requires the independence of companies, rigorous journalism and a critical distance from power.

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 10:37:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Without journalism there is no democracy. And without democracy there is no freedom. So begins the manifesto of Republik (, the Swiss online publication that began its activity on January 14. It is a short text - 154 words - which continues: "When journalism dies, open society, free speech, discussion on the best arguments die too.... Free journalism is the first thing that any dictatorship suppresses.... The task of journalism is to criticize power. For that reason, it is much more than a simple business for big companies... In democracy, the same thing happens as in life in general: people need reasoned information in order to make reasoned decisions.... Good journalism provides facts and contexts, independently, with no fear other than boredom. It seeks clarity, which is the antidote to the ancestral fear of the new. Journalism needs passion, know-how and seriousness..."

Republik proposes a return to the essence of journalism: contextualizing, ordering, explaining an increasingly complex and indecipherable world. The staff is made up of some thirty professionals full-time with the assistance of some external collaborators financial aid . Most of them are veterans, seasoned in a thousand battles, both in Switzerland and abroad. They have given up brilliant - and well-paid - jobs to embark on an idealistic and uncertain project . To ensure their independence, they have decided to renounce advertising. Their start-up was almost an economic miracle: in a short time they raised 3.4 million Swiss francs in donations, a world record. They were looking for "publishers" willing to donate 240 francs each, and within a few hours they reached the initial goal , 3,000 donors. Today, there are already 20,000 donors. The plan is to refund this money to investors over a period of five years, for which a profit must be generated. The initial success has exceeded all forecasts, although the promoters are moderately optimistic: they know that the foundations are fragile and that the future is not assured. In any case, the bet is clear: quality journalism, dealing with truly relevant issues, with well-written stories and supported by very careful graphic material. This demanding way of working does not allow them to publish more than three articles a day.

The romanticism that permeates Republik's adventure is also reflected in the material: essay occupies the second floor of a former Zurich hotel and brothel called Rothaus (Red House). On the leave floor of the typical old brick building there is now a cafeteria, where once a month the newspaper organizes colloquiums with its editors and the general public. Beer and passionate debates, a internship and no less traditional way of keeping up the contact with its readers.

The spirit of Republik's reporters is admirable, but they are human beings like any others. After three months of existence, they noticed certain dysfunctions at management: thinking more about pleasing the bosses than satisfying the interests of the readers, a trait that can be found at any business. They reacted quickly and a change of management will take place in the summer: a healthy rotation to avoid stagnation at the top.

We will have to follow closely the evolution of such an interesting project . In these pages I have recently pondered the uniqueness of the Swiss nation, with its well-educated citizens and its fondness for direct democracy. It is doubtful that Republik's model can be exported to our country, but the problems are very similar and the solution will have to be based on the same principles: independence of news companies, rigorous journalism, critical distance from power, contact close contact with readers.

If they want to survive, news companies need to make money, like all others. Thus, a healthy income statement makes it possible to maintain independence and a critical spirit. Originally, reporting was a typical official document , passed down from father to son. Over time, it became a profession and today it has become a business. In this sector, the same tendency towards concentration can be seen as in all areas of Economics; unfortunately, synergies and economies of scale do not always translate into greater rigor and critical bite. The large industrial and financial groups that invest in the media seek economic profit and political influence, not the defense of freedom and democracy. We need journalists with the indomitable and intrepid spirit of the people of Republik, and readers willing to finance this well-done work , which does not come for free. Only in this way will we be able to get rid of fake news and post-truth, modern names for lies and manipulation. As the Swiss manifesto reminds us, good journalism, democracy and freedom are inseparable.