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Europe's newspapers.

THE victory of Silvio Berlusconi in the March Italian elections has shown the power of television. As his coalition partners at the time asserted his success was due, however ephemeral, to his ownership of three television channels. He assembles his new scarcely defined Party around the television screens. One might, indeed, argue that television, as far as politics are concerned, resembles the 'Agora', the ancient Greek Market, where citizens assembled to form and accept decisions. It was 'Democracy' that accepted slavery, just as today's democracy accepts mass unemployment.

An informative, comprehensive study of the European press published in the new Deutschland magazine before the Italian elections reveals some interesting background in figures. It explains partly the Italian result. The Italians, like other south Europeans, read fewer newspapers. Only 45 per cent of the Italian population are reading dailies, and the third biggest circulation, 428,000, is that of Gazetta dello Sport. On average 220 dailies are sold to every 1,000 of the European, West European, population and in Italy merely 114 while the figure for Britain is 361 and for Germany 328.

The gap in the selling and reading of newspapers between Europe's north and south is fascinating. To take the Big Four of the European Union: In Britain and Germany 85 per cent and 82 per cent of people are at least looking at dailies. In France and Italy the figures are 51 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. The numbers of readers go down from 93 per cent for Sweden to 30 per cent for Spain. This difference is highlighted by the dailies' share in advertising. In Italy television has the biggest share of advertising in Europe and Italian dailies the smallest, 48 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. It explains a lot. Significantly, Italian dailies obtain only 48 per cent of their income from advertising and 52 per cent from sales.

The survey covers all EU member countries, the four new members and Switzerland and Turkey in two statistics. In the EU 969 dailies are published with a print run of 75.6 million copies, both national and regional. The number of regional and local dailies published indicates the strength of regional and local identity feeling. Spain with 128 papers published comes second. First Germany with 386 while Britain has 103 with France and Italy following with 94 and 83. Naturally, small countries like Ireland and Luxembourg have few dailies, eight and four, but 69 per cent of the population are reached by dailies in the Irish Republic compared with 51 per cent in France.

Circulation figures show the level of interest in the various countries. In Germany 26 million copies are sold with Britain following at 20.7 million. In France the figure is 8.8 million with Italy following with 6.6 million. One has to bear in mind the population figures: there are around 80 million in Germany; the other three of the Big Four have, roughly, a population between 53 and 57 million each. Small, advanced, member countries like Denmark or Luxembourg or Holland have impressively higher circulation figures.

The survey also reveals the strength of regional feeling. In Britain regional newspapers hold 33 per cent of the daily circulation while in Germany and France the 'national' papers only have a small proportion of the market. In Italy, the Netherlands and Spain there is a rough balance between national and regional dailies. There are also the tabloids. They dominate the market in Britain and there is also a powerful mass circulation tabloid in Germany the Bildzeitung. A tabloid type daily has also been launched in France. In the south as well as in Holland and Sweden the tabloids have not really emerged as yet. This, inevitably increases the influence of television, as Italy has shown with the Gazetta dello Sport hard on the heels of the two quality broadsheets, Republica and Corriere.

Three regionally based German broadsheets aspire to be considered national: the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Munich Sueddeutsche and the Hamburg Die Welt, the paper is said to have played a key role in getting Germany to lead the EU to accept the crucial early recognition of Croatia. A leading Berlin broadsheet is expected to emerge when Berlin is once again the capital of Germany in practical terms. Curiously enough, the local and regional dailies in what was East Germany have largely retained their readers, especially those in Saxony.

The German Basic Law, introduced by the Western occupying powers, gives much power to the federal states, the 16 Lander. The structure of the German press reflects that. Of the 386 dailies, 300 survive with circulations of between 5,000 and 60,000, with well under 30 others reaching the 200,000 circulation figure. Newspapers, like other printed material, enjoy a reduced VAT (seven per cent) and one million newspapers are delivered by a specially reduced delivery service, the Pressepost.

Again, in the whole of Europe revenue from sales and advertising differs remarkably between north and south with Spain being the exception. Germany and Britain, of the Big Four, getting 65 per cent and 61 per cent respectively from advertising and 35 per cent and 39 per cent from sales. The figures for France and Italy again differ remarkably; they are 40 per cent and 48 per cent for advertising and 60 per cent and 52 per cent respectively for sales. Spain gets 77 per cent from advertising and 23 per cent from sales while the dailies in Ireland only get 34 per cent of their income from advertising and 66 per cent from sales. The dependence on advertising therefore varies considerably.

The share in advertising between dailies, television, radio and magazines varies interestingly in the European countries bringing surprises. Apart from Italy television has the biggest share in Greece and Portugal and a modest share in Germany, France and Britain. In Britain, France and Germany, the dailies have a modest share of just over 20 per cent while magazines are doing better than dailies in Belgium and Greece. In only two small countries, Denmark and Luxembourg the dailies have a bigger share than television. Radio hardly figures.

The survey says that the circulation of dailies Europe-wide is falling steadily and so is the income from advertising. Competition from television and also magazines reduces the share in advertising. In France the drop in advertising revenue is dramatic. The survey reveals that French dailies have, for some years, received grants from a special government fund, the quality broadsheets Figaro and Le Monde a subsidy of over [pounds]500,000 each.

But the survey also reveals that papers in Belgium with low revenue from advertising, and papers in Sweden as well as in Italy get regular subsidies while they get reduced postal rates in Denmark, France, Italy and Portugal. The survey goes as far as to maintain that direct subsidies such as those mentioned 'have become a matter of course throughout the EU where the extent to which they are granted varies'.

The spread of subsidies is obviously related to the difference in the share of revenue between north and south. In southern Europe advertising appears to favour television and magazines while in Britain, Germany and Holland newspapers are still getting a major share which is diminishing, however.

The German Newspaper Association is, however, really worried and is trying to do something about it. Younger people are less interested in reading dailies in Germany. Between 1980 and 1989 the number of readers between 14 and 19 years of age has dropped by eight per cent. Leading dailies in southern Germany are publishing special supplements for young people and others have special pages for the young. In Frankfurt the papers have started a project involving school children in helping to produce a paper. There are even courses for teachers to acquaint them, and through them their pupils, with the technicalities of newspaper production. Because of the growing popularity of television, German newspaper publishers have been promoting reading for some years now.

It is also felt that the dailies have, from now on, to adjust their editorial focal point policy because of the news-point and sound-bite advantages the electronic media, television and radio, have regarding topical information. There is the view that straight news is becoming less important for the dailies than background information and assessment and in-depth commentaries. There the papers can show their real power and authority. There is also a growing tendency to produce sections that provide readers with information dealing with their interests as consumers. In other words the papers would assume a limited function as advertisers.

Electronics have invaded newspaper editing in Germany, of course. Screen processing and digital full-page layouts are being introduced as well as teletex systems. Several papers are feeding their information into commercial database networks. This is also seen as vital for local and regional papers with low circulation because in the future of 'Super-Highway' electronic television network the local information available to local papers will be able to compete successfully with the electronic media networks because they will be better placed to assess the 'topicality and relevance of local information', being the traditional local or regional papers.

This year is election year in Germany with a dozen local and regional elections ending with the October General Election. The role and performance of papers, television and radio, will be carefully assessed after what is happening in Italy. The printing media as well as the traditional political party organizations are clearly on the defensive.

The move towards electronic papers should be seen, also, against the desperate efforts of the European Union towards 'convergence'. It would not be surprising if the EU Commission, under its new leadership next year, were to embark into efforts to set up an electronic media centre to supply the dailies of the then 16 member countries that will give them even greater power.

POEM

PARADOXOLOGY

The oppressor brutalises himself, But those he subdues have their dignity; The slanderer sinks barbs in his own flesh, But those he vilifies are free of hurt; The liar's distortion blurs his vision, But those he deceives improve their focus; The cheat deprives himself of his value, But his victim's loss is replaceable; Faithless lovers become lonely strangers, But those they betray are silent allies.

Tim Hopkins
COPYRIGHT 1994 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jun 1, 1994
Words:1719
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