In general, small states are not the ideal locations for independent journalism, i.e. the type of journalism that holds the powerful accountable. This is because small states have small markets. And when these states have several popular languages, then the markets are even smaller. This makes the production of quality journalism inefficient. Consequently, “national sovereignty in broadcasting is vulnerable due to the overspill of foreign television channels via satellite and highly developed cable networks” (Burgelman and Pauwels, 1992: 173; Puppis 2009). This is especially true in small states with neighbour that use the same language(s). In Luxembourg, for example, 85.6 percent of the market is owned by foreign television channels (Puppis 2009). The presence of foreign media can affect the politics of small states. In Luxembourg, whether citizens are watching French or German television can affect what they think about certain foreign policy issues, such as war and trade.
This said, the vulnerability of small states and their press is often exaggerated. For one, although the presence of foreign media might on occasion reduce patriotism and national solidarity (in the Baltic states, for instance), this is not always the case. The citizens of Malta or Luxembourg who watch BBC or France 24 are far from irredentist. If anything, the thing threatened by foreign media is not national solidarity, but the national language.
Some have argued that “export does not offer a solution either because media productions from small countries are too culturally specific” (Burgelman and Pauwels, 1992: 173; Puppis 2009). But the case of the state-funded Al Jazeera seems to contradict this claim. The Qatari company produces television and Internet news in several languages, and has become a serious competitor for the likes of BBC and CNN. Al Jazeera has been so successful that other, larger states have followed, producing media outlets such as France 24 and RT. Overall, this confirms the adage that “media markets are language markets” (Puppis 2009).
Small states have also been known to have many free newspaper, which are quite popular. “In 2010, Iceland and Luxemburg were the only European countries where the penetration of free newspapers was higher than that of their paid for counterparts” (Jóhannsdóttir and Ólafsson 2018). And the free papers have been general purpose papers with serious coverage of domestic and international news, not down-market tabloids, and delivered to people’s homes.
Thus, it is not foreign influence or economic viability that are the largest problems for the press in small states. The real issue, perhaps more so than in large states, is the ability of small state journalists to cover the powerful within the state in an objective or critical manner. As is the case for regional and local journalists, conflicts of interest are rife. The same can be said concerning the difficulty of obtaining specialised knowledge. Furthermore, due to short career ladders, most skilled journalists seek better jobs elsewhere.