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 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.
The threat to democracy
Corruption set to rise
Growth of social tension and conflict
Self-determination and cultural sovereignty
Threat to achieving sustainable development goals
Epidemics and disease
Famine and government responsiveness
Real life experiences
‘The most crucial value for media right now is independence’
Lion Mountain Radio
Improving the health of Sierra Leoneans