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Journalists for free, service not included

Job offers for unpaid work assignments are on the rise. How has the profession changed when it now comprises 68% of persons with no income

In the face of calls for tenders for the awarding of professional appointments for journalists willing to work for free, trade unions and the Order protest, calling for the rigors of the law, but can not stop this phenomenon, until a few years ago unthinkable and now increasingly frequent. To offer these positions are public administrations, private companies, large and small publishing companies and it it seems they will not be deserted. The phenomenon exists and certainly raises some questions. It suggests the impoverishment of this bold category and other aspects.

Until recently, in terms of pride and payroll, journalists seemed second to none. Right or wrong, the category had been included as a prominent component in the so-called “caste” of the privileged. And now?

We have to wonder what it means or might mean, the contribution of a journalistic assignment that requires time, effort, commitment, professionalism without providing remuneration. It means first of all to restrict the audience of those interested by money, personal wealth, the enjoyment of pension annuities or other privileges may waive the salary. A certainly unjust restriction. But it also means something that in other times would have been called alienation: that the performance of the same work can be remuneration enough. And finally it makes also think of something even more disturbing: that others can provide the remuneration that the employer does not, as it was time ago for tax collectors, and as it is still in some countries for certain trades. For example, the waiters in the United States. In that country who goes into a bar or a restaurant knows that at the time of paying the bill he must check if the service is included in the bill or not, in which case you just pay the bill and possibly leave some change, or if the service is not included an amount of between 10 and 15 percent must be added to the account, which is the remuneration of the waiter. Who does not do so is publicly mocked and therefore all do. Journalists who openly work for free seems to me that resemble those that work in not clubs where it says “service not included”, which are available to customers and are paid by customers. Probably it is not so. But it would be good to have some clarification, even so as to ensure compliance with the professional rules, the ethics, that small but essential clause which distinguishes journalism from other activities in the field of information that may resemble a mere buyer-seller transaction.

Among the ethical rules that a journalist must respect there are the autonomy of judgment, respect for the truth, and the public interest and so far it was believed that the preconditions for working with such liberties are adequate remuneration and the security of the job. Now it seems that it is no longer the case, but it is unclear why and we would like to understand it. In recent years we have seen many innovations of this kind which in the long run led the category to the critical point where it is now. And we have not looked at what was good and what this category was becoming.

AGCOM has just x-rayed the situation. Among other things, it said that the category has aged significantly, it has impoverished and it has lost credibility. It has also pointed out that among 112’397 journalists registered, only 35,619 (i.e. 31.7%) receive income from this activity. It is not known how the other 76’778 (68.3%) people live , which is their main business and how many times their secondary activities allow them to accept unpaid journalism. In short, we know more, but we still lack some important information.


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