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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Mapping a path toward viable media through national consultations

Thursday , 16 February 2023

As policymakers strive to confront the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, media outlets, experts, and other stakeholders are leading discussions on how best to ensure the viability of free, independent, and pluralistic media in increasingly dire financial straits.

In January and early February, national consultations were held in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Namibia to map out a path forward for local stakeholders and their donors. These consultations, supported by the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), built upon numerous UNESCO resourcesexpert discussions, and policy recommendations.

Growing challenges to media viability

According to UNESCO’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2021/2022 Global Report, in the last five years, global newspaper ad revenue dropped by half—and by two-thirds over the last ten years—as advertising revenue continues to shift to tech giants like Meta and Google. News media around the world are struggling to stay afloat. IPDC-supported discussions held in 2021 further found that, at the national level, the already-limited ad market is often dominated by a few large traditional outlets.

"One of the major things that now colors all other discussions is the lack of money and problems with the structures of the marketplace: lack of advertising funding for the media, limited support from the state, and other challenges." Mira Milosevic - Executive Director of the Global Forum for Media Development

These challenges, alongside other context-specific obstacles, were reported in ten national-level consultations, an early step in IPDC and UNESCO’s wider initiative to shed light on and support media viability. In November 2021, UNESCO’s General Conference endorsed the Windhoek+30 Declaration, which formally recognized the need to bolster the economic viability of journalism in order to guarantee information as a public good.

Toward that end, ten countries—representing a wide variety in populations, market structure, and legal environments—were selected for in-depth research and consultations. In each, UNESCO and its partners collected detailed data, examined the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on news media, and consulted with local stakeholders about possible solutions at national and outlet levels. Now, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) and local partners are carrying forward this work to establish actionable next steps at the national level.

"The first step to addressing these issues is to actually talk to each other – to understand who’s doing what and share information, have clarity, in order to explore options for synergies and be more successful together." 
Ayman Mhanna - Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation

Local stakeholders identify the path forward

In late January, the UNESCO office in Beirut, alongside the Samir Kassir Foundation and Maharat Foundation, hosted a discussion of nearly 60 participants in person and online, bringing together local media workers, researchers, civil society, policymakers, and donors. After outlining key challenges to media viability in the Lebanese context and possible avenues of response, the half-day meeting began steps toward better coordination between local actors, media support organizations, and international donors.

Similar themes emerged in Tunis the following week. There, approximately 30 participants were hosted by GFMD and UNESCO representatives and local partners Al Khatt and PAMT2. Participants also embraced the roundtable as an opportunity to share and learn from the successful business models of independent outlets such as Inkyfada.

Coordination and information sharing was again emphasized in Windhoek in early February, where UNESCO and GFMD joined Namibia Media Trust (NMT) and the Editors’ Forum of Namibia for the third half-day consultation. As was highlighted in a discussion paper prepared by NMT for the meeting and throughout the day, “The future of the media in Namibia, as in other parts of the world, is dependent on learning, adaptation, and innovation.”

Working groups in all three countries are now coalescing around actionable next steps and policy recommendations, preparing reports to lay out the most promising opportunities in their unique environments. In addition to national- and outlet-level findings, the outcomes of these consultations will further inform global-level discussions and similar consultations to be held in other national contexts.

To read more about IPDC’s work on media viability, click here.

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