Thursday, December 30, 2010

Europe's new cultural capitals

Turku, Finland and Tallinn,Estonia are the two European capitals of culture for 2011. They assume the mantle from Istanbul, Essen in Germany and Pecs in Hungary.

Turku is located west of the Finnish capital Helsinki and has chosen to highlight the links between culture and wellbeing. According to a DW report, doctors in Turku will even be able to prescribe attendance at cultural events. Turku is an old university city and the links between the arts and the sciences are also an element of the coming year in the Finnish city.

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, one of three Baltic countries freed from Russian rule when the Soviet Union melted in history. The city's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and hopes that the focus on culture during 2011 will further boost its bid to be seen as a modern and progressive European state.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A mixed media year

For media companies and their newspapers 2010 was a year of contradictions and mixed signals. The launch of the iPad in April was hailed as the great white hope for media corporations desperate to find a profitable niche in an online world in which readers of news have come to expect free access to news. In July Rupert Murdoch's Times began charging readers to read articles on its website and other Murdoch papers are to follow. Many other newspapers have continued the race to the bottom as they retreat from any role as bastions of serious journalism in the public interest. Investigative journalism has all but disappeared from the mainstream media. Instead, newspapers have become hardly distinguishable from junk mail advertising brochures and lifestyle magazines.

In response we have seen a further growth in the importance of bloggers and other "independent" players the most famous of which is now Wikileaks. It is indicative of the current media landscape that the "investigative" side of this story was undertaken by a group of radicals and not by the media.

And to wrap up the year Hungary's right-wing government under Viktor Orbán has recently announced new laws to curtail press freedom in that country. That alone may seem unsurprising given Hungary's past experience with a Communist dictatorship but things were meant to have changed. Orbán's country is now a member of the European Union and on 1 January assumes its rotating presidency. A serious dispute about the nature of press freedom has broken out between the Hungarian government and many other members of the EU. It is a debate on which the Union should not compromise. A financially healthy, free and critical media is at the heart of democracy.