Representatives from 13 independent online journalism platforms gathered in Lahore last week. They jointly agreed to sign a declaration to form an association of Independent Online Journalism Platforms. The 13 platforms representing all parts of the country signed the declaration, which marked the entry of these independent platforms in the media landscape of Pakistan.
The declaration of the association mentions the core charter of the group. The charter mentions that this association will support and practice independent online public interest journalism in Pakistan. It will represent the rights and interests of all the socio-political, ethnic, and religiously marginalized communities ignored by the mainstream media. The charter further mentions that the association will promote the development and professionalism of the independent online journalism sector in Pakistan. The association will be the representative body that will act to safeguard the rights and interests of independent online journalism platforms in Pakistan. The association will frame its rules of membership and other organizational matters in the weeks to come.
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This news was perceived positively by the independent online journalism community. This is because the formation of their dedicated union allows independent online journalism platforms to emerge from the shadow of legacy media. Digital media wings of major legacy media houses will no longer be able to monopolize the digital media landscape. This is good news for consumers and writers across the country. Now there will be more recognized platforms where writers can publish their contributions. There will also be more platforms to cover pressing issues of the so-called peripheral regions of Pakistan, which have always been ignored by mainstream media.
The new association will also strive to make the distribution of the digital advertisement revenue fair. At the moment, a major share of digital media advertising revenue is eaten up by legacy media. Independent online journalism platforms, despite having substantial readership across the country miss out on their due share because they cannot match the bargaining power of large media groups. With the formation of the new alliance, this status quo will change and it will not be easy for legacy media to retain its singular control on the digital advertisement revenue.
The increase in the revenue of independent online media will directly benefit the quality of journalism in Pakistan. Independent online media will be able to scale up its operations, hire more people, and cover an increasing number of issues. They will also be able to cover the critical issues of the country independently because they will not be blackmailed by corporate sponsors like mainstream media. This will also promote local journalism in different parts of Pakistan, which has died down due to the dominance of corporate and legacy media in Pakistan.
The success of the charter of the newly formed association will not be possible without the support of people in the country. These independent platforms cannot rely only on advertisements to ensure their independence. Therefore, they will have to develop their own subscription models or other reader-driven revenue models. This cannot be made possible without the support of the readers, who need to spend a few bucks to pay for the quality news content.
Currently, common readers in Pakistan are not willing to pay for the news that they consume. They are used to reading free content, which is not technically free. If readers do not pay for the news with their money then they will pay with their attention targeted through coordinated advertisements. Consequently, it will not be easy for the members of the newly formed independent online journalism association to convince the common readers to finance their media platforms.
Another potential problem that this association may encounter is forming robust rules for membership. Presently, there are a lot of websites claiming to be news media. While most of them are committed to journalism, some of them are not. Therefore, it is crucial that only the platforms with a proven track record of journalism are allowed to become members. This will not only be good for the sustainability of this association but it will also recognize genuine online journalism platforms for common readers.
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