The issue

Independent media, acknowledged for generations as a fundamental pillar for the functioning of democratic societies, is under unprecedented and, in some settings, existential threat.

That threat is both political and economic.

Today, just 13 per cent of the world’s population enjoy access to free media. Meanwhile, politically motivated attacks on journalists and investigative reporters that speak the truth are growing. Democracy is in retreat. Autocracies are on the march and their path to power is principally by attacking the media. V-Dem Institute warns that “wannabe” dictators seek to restrict and control the media, and feed polarisation by spreading disinformation.

The business model supporting independent journalism has been eroding for a decade as advertising – often the principal source of independent media income – has migrated online. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed that chronic economic challenge into an acute economic crisis.

And yet only 0.3 per cent of overseas development assistance (ODA) – around £350m – goes to supporting media globally. Funders conclude that their commitments are inadequate and they do not currently have the systems or mechanisms necessary to create impact.

Why media is in trouble

Nishant Lalwani, Director of Independent Media at Luminate

The Covid pandemic

The Covid pandemic has had a profound impact on public interest media. The global loss in revenue in 2020 of newspapers alone is estimated at US$30 billion. Some commentators have called the pandemic a “media extinction” event. As well as compounding threats to resources for public interest media, the pandemic – which the WHO termed an “infodemic” – proved that access to reliable information can be a matter of life and death.  

The Fund is needed to counter the infodemic where misinformation is fuelling both the spread of the virus and complicating the response by providing trustworthy news and information. It will also sustain the business models for public interest media providing trustworthy information, as advertising and other income collapse.

Evidence of threat

Evidence of a media extinction event is well documented - and growing.

Sources: Journalism and the Pandemic project with 1400 respondents from 125 countries. The independent news emergency relief coordination (INERC) survey of 165 respondents.

The consequences

The consequences of an eroded public interest media are dire. There are serious implications for electoral politics, corruption and meeting the SDGs, which are increasingly endangered by growing misinformation.
This situation can not continue. We need a new International Fund for Public Interest Media to provide a fresh, ambitious, coordinated and well resourced strategic international response to this crisis.
Democratic costs
The threat to democracy
As citizens are unable to make informed democratic choices
Corruption set to rise
As corrupt or authoritarian actors pay to neutralise independent media and attacks on journalists escalate
Growth of social tension and conflict
As mis- and dis- information rise and media are unable to engage across societal fracture lines
Self-determination and cultural sovereignty
As democratic media spaces empty, undemocratic media actors occupy them
Developmental costs
Threat to achieving sustainable development goals
It is very difficult to conceive that SDGs can be successfully achieved across the entire agenda without the participation of informed and engaged societies
Epidemics and disease
Vaccination boycotts and attacks on health outreach workers prompted by misinformation campaigns are becoming increasingly common
Famine and government responsiveness
A hamstrung media is unable to expose or hold governments accountable for wrongdoing, mismanagement or emerging crises

Real life experiences

Case Study

Nexo

‘The most crucial value for media right now is independence’

Case Study

Lion Mountain Radio

Improving the health of Sierra Leoneans

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