The recent local addition to the journalism scene, with a heavily advertised team of award-winning reporters, has not gone unnoticed. It was weeks of promoting the journalists as the best of the best before they launched the online news website.
The website was launched with seemingly great think-pieces, but most importantly, with all of their ad slots sold. This is unheard of in start-up news companies. News outlets have to produce a wealth of content and prove readership values before sponsor companies dare to put up advertisements. Unless you are funded by someone influential or rich, this just does not happen.
I would not go as far as to call it propaganda content, but it would be naive to think the media outlet would publish anything to alienate its main advertiser, the state-run company, to not lose its funding. This means that corruption and other scandals of these advertisers will go uncovered.
Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) is currently investigating the accusations that Maldives Gas was involved in a major corruption scheme regarding the supply of oxygen cylinders to the country. This would be the ideal time for the team of “investigative journalists” to do comprehensive reporting, however, due to Maldive Gas being a subsidiary of the state-run STO, it’s unlikely that this will be covered by this particular media.
Adversarial, or rather watchdog journalism, is central to democracy. It is in the public’s best interests that journalists uncover the wrongdoings of those we have elected to office, and hold them accountable. Which makes taking on state-run companies as advertisers and retainers eerily dangerous.
Additionally, some have also pointed out and criticized the media for featuring a column by Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem, especially since the man is under hot water for dodging the ventilator scandal.
It would also be extremely disappointing if a news media heavily branded as “investigative journalism” is just another mouthpiece for government public relations. And so far, with no adversarial content against the government on the news website, the up-and-coming news outlet does not seem to live up to its hype.
So what can we do?
The media cannot drop advertisements, unfortunately. After all, journalists have to pay the bills and eat, too (some of us, a bit too much.)
The idea of subscribing to a newspaper or a magazine is now a foreign concept to us, especially when we expect free content on the Internet in a digital world.
And in a society that does not like to pay for news content, there is nothing wrong with advertisements and sponsored content.
In the local journalism landscape, there is very little news that is unbiased, uninfluenced, and balanced. Part of it is because of advertisements affecting editorial policy, which seems to be unavoidable in this small country.
It is as host of Last Week Tonight John Oliver said, we either pay for journalism, or we will have to pay for it.
If we have decided that subscribing to news outlets is not our cup of tea, then we must at least be disillusioned by the narrative that everything you read on your favorite go-to news outlet is fair and informed.