Monique Hofmann, director of the German Journalists’ Association (DJU), spoke to the Journalist Post Magazine: Good working conditions for journalists are a prerequisite for the media to fulfill its democratic responsibility.
Monique Hofmann DJU – Freelance journalists in Germany earned on average around 884 euros, less than their full-time permanent colleagues, resulting in a study on precarization in journalism at LMU Munich found last year. The gap has been increasing since 2014/2015. What is also frightening is the finding that the majority of freelance journalists, almost a third, earn only between 600 and 1200 euros a month. The situation is particularly dramatic for newspaper journalists, especially for those who work in the local area. 25 Cents per line, including online publication? Hardly unique. Anyone who protests and demands a reasonable fee will be dismissed: “We would like to refrain from further cooperation with you in the future,” is then said.
Therefore, only a few even dare to take the step of asserting their fee claims in court – despite considerable chances of success. Just like a freelance local journalist, whom the Landauer Zeitung had paid 14 cents per line and 5 euros per picture for years. The Higher Regional Court of Nuremberg awarded her an additional payment of over 70,000 euros in 2020. This decision was based on the Common Remuneration Rules (GVR) agreed by the trade unions and the Publishers’ Association for journalists at daily newspapers, which the court recognized as a guide, although they had been unilaterally terminated by the publishers in 2017. Also by means of collective struggle, in which the free unite in solidarity, improvements could already be achieved in the past. For example, at the “Esslinger Zeitung”, where the freelancers no longer accepted orders for two weeks in 2018 and in this way were able to achieve a noticeable increase in their fees and expense allowances.
However, these rare moments of success cannot obscure the worrying reality: a majority of freelance journalists need a second or even third reliance point in order to be able to pay their own rent at all. A growing number are even leaving the journalism industry altogether – with fatal consequences, especially for local journalism, where the democracy–promoting importance of the media is most clearly shown. Especially since other factors favor this development.
FINANCIAL AND SAFETY CHALLENGES FOR FREELANCE JOURNALISTS
Because the situation of freelance journalists is unstable not only from a financial point of view. For years, media professionals have been exposed to a growing number of attacks: threats in the digital platforms or on the street, hate campaigns on the internet, physical assaults, especially since the nationwide spread of anti-corona measures-protests by lateral thinking and other groups, also increasing legal attacks in the form of cease-and-desist requests or even lawsuits. Almost daily hostility of any kind is now part of everyday working life for many media representatives.
But while permanent journalists can rather count on the support of their publishing house or their broadcasting company, freelance journalists are defenseless in the front row. Especially if they are not employee-like freelancers, so-called permanent freelancers, or if they are journalists who even work without a media company’s order at all. Having to read dozens of hate messages every day and check them for criminal relevance takes a lot of time and is psychologically stressful. The same applies to journalists who report a physical attack on them and want to ensure a fair punishment of the perpetrators. Anyone who has to defend themselves against legal attacks or even against so-called SLAPPs, strategic lawsuits against public participation, is quickly worn down by the time and cost required for this. It can even take on life-threatening extend.
To conclude, If the problematic structural conditions for freelance media work do not change, more and more freelance journalists who can no longer afford their jobs will migrate to other industries. And this will noticeably harm journalism as a constituent building block of democracy as a whole. So what to do? To start with, publishers do not take action on their own, therefore the legislator is called upon to take these into account. That is why we at ver.di demand, among other things, that the state press subsidies that are now being discussed, as well as any other direct or indirect subsidies, are only granted to companies that adhere to collective bargaining and social standards in the industry. Good working conditions for (freelance) journalists are a prerequisite for the media to be able to live up to their responsibility for democracy.
Freelance Journalists make the high-quality work
We do not know the current representative figures, but some indications suggest that journalism in Germany is now done by significantly more freelancers than permanent employees. For the journalistic product, this means that its quality largely depends on the work of the freelancers and that without their work, the media would no longer be able to depict events in business, politics and society in the way that is necessary for the fulfillment of their public mission. Free journalism is therefore fundamental for maintaining the democracy-relevant function of the media. As an apparent contradiction, it seems that freelance journalists have been exposed to increasing precarity for years, and not only with regard to their economic situation.
Who is Monique Hofmann?
In 2014, she was the director of the ‘Europäische Burgerinitiative für Medienviel falt’ (European People’s Initiative for Media Diversity). In 2015, she started working at ver.di in the media sector as responsible of communications and public relations in the syndicate. Hofmann, who has been the director of the Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union (German Journalists’ Union) at ver.di since November 2020, represents the rights of all journalists organized in the ver.di union. She organizes workshops for press workers and provides legal support. As the DJU administrator, she is also responsible for the press cards. Since 2016 she is a freelance journalist writing over thhe media issues for the media magazine “Menschen Machen Medien”.