European journalism interesting practices and innovative legislations

Flagship proposals

Concrete political proposals in support of a civic and social European journalism. Come and comment them !


Views on media and media policies. Do you agree with them?

In the news

Events to attend and news to share

In French

Articles et propositions en français

Home » Flagship proposals, Headline

The Democratic Firm: a guarantee of journalists’ independence and media pluralism

Submitted by on March 26, 2012 – 14:37One Comment

The plu­ral­ism of media is cur­rently seri­ously endan­gered (not only) in Europe. Apart from obvi­ous polit­i­cal pres­sures and effects of media con­cen­tra­tion, jour­nal­ists are also gravely affected by the finan­cial and eco­nomic cri­sis. With a drop in adver­tis­ing rev­enue, the media are cut­ting their costs and turn increas­ingly to free­lance work­ers. This sit­u­a­tion places the jour­nal­ists in a daily strug­gle for piece­work rates, to ensure their liveli­hood. But more­over, the free­lance con­tract is weigh­ing heav­ily in the bal­ance of power with the employer, espe­cially with regards to edi­to­r­ial choices.

Goef­frey Geuens also explains well the dif­fi­culty for jour­nal­ists to take dis­tance with the pre­vail­ing one-track think­ing, which gained ground in news­rooms. In the ide­o­log­i­cal field, there would be no need for extern pres­sure, because most of jour­nal­ists would have (uncon­sciously) inte­grated the main dis­course, espe­cially on social and eco­nomic issues.

In an arti­cle on media cov­er­age of a recent tragic car acci­dent in Swiss, in which twenty-two Bel­gian chil­dren died, jour­nal­ist and lec­turer Marc Sin­naeve also points out a para­dox: while media fight a lot to inves­ti­gate what can cause such (appalling) news item, “they were sat­is­fied with much less ques­tion­ing dur­ing the announce­ment of early retire­ment reforms in Bel­gium”. They cover this kind of pol­icy “as if it were a fate, despite the fact that here, a severe inves­ti­ga­tion would be nec­es­sary”.

How to pro­tect and defend plu­ral­ism in such conditions?

We think an alter­na­tive model of work­ing organ­i­sa­tion could respond to all those threats to media inde­pen­dence and plu­ral­ism: media con­cen­tra­tion in a few hands, polit­i­cal pres­sures, strug­gle for per­sonal liveli­hood, pre­vail­ing ide­ol­ogy. This model, the Demo­c­ra­tic Firm, is pre­sented and defended by Philippe D. Gros­jean.

Philippe D. Gros­jean is the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Per­ma­nent Forum of Civil Soci­ety but also per­son­ally runs dif­fer­ent projects for the strength­en­ing of civil soci­ety and active cit­i­zen­ship all over the world.

In his Demo­c­ra­tic Firm, the con­trac­tual link between the owner of the means of pro­duc­tion and the worker is inverted. Apply­ing it within jour­nal­ism, the media owner would not rent the work­ing force of jour­nal­ists any­more, but the jour­nal­ists would be those who rent the newsroom/radio station/TV stu­dio to realise their articles/multimedia pro­grammes. The prod­uct of their work would belong to them.

IHECS’ stu­dent Elodie Lamer met Philippe Gros­jean to give us more infor­ma­tion on the Demo­c­ra­tic Firm:

EL: What does the Demo­c­ra­tic Firm change for the employee?

PGThe demo­c­ra­tic firm is based on the labour the­ory of prop­erty which says that every per­son who sets him­self to work to pro­duce some­thing is inescapably the first owner of that product.

In every activ­ity of our lives, being the owner of the means of pro­duc­tion doesn’t make you auto­mat­i­cally the owner of the prod­uct. For exam­ple, if I rent you my pen and a sheet of paper (or allow you to use them free of charge) and if you start to draw some­thing, the draw­ing will be yours, not mine, even if you drew it with my own pen. In every-day life, one becomes auto­mat­i­cally the owner of the first prop­erty right to the result of our labour.

But in the cur­rent eco­nomic sys­tem, this every-day auto­matic prin­ci­ple is changed by the employ­ment con­tract which says: “because you are using my means of pro­duc­tion, the prod­uct becomes auto­mat­i­cally mine”.

In a demo­c­ra­tic firm, it is no longer the owner who rents in the work­ers; it is the work­ers who rent in the means of pro­duc­tion. By just invert­ing the con­tract like a sock, the same pro­duc­tion process can be orga­nized with­out vio­lat­ing the inalien­able prop­erty right of the work­ers, or the pri­vate prop­erty right of the owner. This is fully respect­ful of the human right.

EL: What is the dif­fer­ence between the demo­c­ra­tic firm and the co-operative, which is another alter­na­tive to the wage-earner?

PGIn all work­ers co-operatives, the prin­ci­ple of democ­racy in the work­ing place is respected. But in a demo­c­ra­tic firm their indi­vid­ual prop­erty right is also respected. Indeed, the demo­c­ra­tic firm solves a long-standing major prob­lem of all work­ers co-operatives in the past, i.e. how to iden­tify clearly the prop­erty right of each coop­er­a­tor on his(her) share on what is com­monly detained, so that when he(she) decides to leave or to retire, his(her) indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion in the assets of the firm could be eas­ily iden­ti­fied and refunded.

When you look back in his­tory, you see that every work­ers coop­er­a­tive has always failed to solve this ques­tion. They didn’t man­age to invent a sys­tem to respect the prop­erty right for every­thing that the coop­er­a­tors detained in com­mon. Each firm has things which have been bought with every cooperators’money in vari­able pro­por­tion. And if some­one wanted to leave, he had to sac­ri­fice his con­tribu­tive share.

Only one co-operative has done that. The coop­er­a­tive of Mon­dragon (in the Basque coun­try) decided to cre­ate an indi­vid­ual account for each co-operator in the lia­bil­ity of the firm. So when some­one decides to leave, he gets back his con­tribu­tive share. Mon­dragon was a good exam­ple but now it is start­ing to crum­ble down only because that coop­er­a­tive decided to buy com­pa­nies, becom­ing an amal­gam of co-operators and employ­ees. And it makes me think that as long as every com­pany doesn’t turn itself into a demo­c­ra­tic firm, it is dif­fi­cult that one can sur­vive remotely some­where in the planet.

EL: Is this model adapt­able to the media?

PGOf course! For most Medias, jour­nal­ists con­sti­tute them­selves as a sep­a­rate soci­ety. But in their con­tract with the share­hold­ers it is still pro­vided that “although you con­sti­tute a sep­a­rate entity, you are still using my means of pro­duc­tion and there­fore we keep the power to instruct you on what you may or may not tell when using our means of pro­duc­tion.” It’s the case for the RTBF for exam­ple. All the jour­nal­ists are merged into a group who signed a con­tract with RTBF and every jour­nal­ist is autonomous and respon­si­ble for what he says but what he says has to be blessed by the shareholders.

So it isn’t a rela­tion­ship employer-employee but it is not yet a demo­c­ra­tic firm because

  1. The jour­nal­ist don’t have the inalien­able right to self-government in con­duct­ing their pro­duc­tion process,
  2. The jour­nal­ists don’t have the inalien­able prop­erty right to the pos­i­tive and­neg­a­tive out­puts from their pro­duc­tion process.

EL: Which polit­i­cal impulse is needed at a Euro­pean scale?

PGThe Euro­pean court of human rights should con­demn the salaries con­tract because it doesn’t respect the human rights. One should adopt what I call “the Bosman strat­egy” refer­ring to that foot­ball player, Jean-Marc Bosman, who refused to be trans­ferred to another club. He refused to be sold just like an ani­mal. And he decided to bring his case before the Euro­pean court of human rights. And he won. And this is what every labor union should do. They should come together and bring the case of the employee con­tract before that court argu­ing that it is oppo­site to the human rights of prop­erty and democracy.

The cri­sis forces us to seri­ously re-think the lib­eral blind-alley we have been fac­ing for far too long, and to turn to alter­na­tive ways of social, sus­tain­able and solidarity-based econ­omy, more respect­ful of human rights.

Accord­ing to us, the Demo­c­ra­tic Firm can con­tribute to meet those stakes. In the field of spe­cific media chal­lenges, it would also bet­ter guar­an­tee jour­nal­ists’ inde­pen­dance and media pluralism.

What do you think?

Related posts:

  1. Defend­ing media plu­ral­ism by mon­i­tor­ing threats in the Mem­ber States
  2. Towards a Euro­pean Ini­tia­tive for Media Plu­ral­ism — March 31st, 2011
  3. Cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive for Media Plu­ral­ism: from Brus­sels to Bologna
  4. AFP’s inde­pen­dence in danger
  5. Cre­ate a bal­ance between pub­lic ser­vice media, com­mer­cial media and community-based media

One Comment »

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.