Terhi Rantanen & Oliver Boyd-Barrett: State News Agencies: A Time for Re-Evaluation?

Introduction: Since the birth of news agencies over one hundred and seventy years ago there has been much debate about the ideal form of ownership. The first European news agencies were mostly private, often named after their founders (e.g. Fabra in Spain, Havas in France, Reuters in the UK, Stefani in Italy, Tuvora in Austria, Woljf in Germany). But governments or States in most, if not all, such countries, soon became involved in agency news-gathering and dissemination. For this they used a variety of means that included ownership, control, tariff concessions for use of Communications facilities, Intervention in news content, and overt or covert subsidy or financing of news agencies.

Government agencies are almost as old as other ownership forms. The first private agency was the French Havas (1935), the first cooperative agency the US Associated Press (1848) and the first State agency k. k. Telegraphen Korrespondenz-Bureau in 1860, when it started distributing articles to the newspapers published by the Austro-Hungarian Government (Dörfler & Pensold, 2001, S.15). Although the States role varied from country to country, government-run agencies were soon widely acknowledged, for example in Germany, Russia, Italy and the Balkans. Many news agencies that were commonly regarded as private, nonetheless had close Connections with their respective governments. Reuters is a case in point: the London-based agency enjoyed significant government subventions through much of the 20th Century (Read, 1999). …