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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Are Donors Taking the Journalism Crisis Seriously?

Wednesday , 07 February 2024

An Analysis of Official Aid to Media 2010–2019

Independent media are in crisis in countries around the world, with 2022 marking a more than 10-year decline in media freedom and independence globally. The sector is increasingly throttled by deepening polarization, widespread democratic recessions, and new technologies and legal tactics that are being used to undermine a free press. Independent journalism is also in financial peril. As production and consumption have moved online, media outlets have lost upwards of 60 percent of their advertising revenues to tech platforms. This precipitous loss of revenues has made independent media more vulnerable to economic capture by political actors and economic elites who aim to control the public narrative or censor the news industry.

The scale of the problem facing global independent media requires a more robust and sustained commitment by the world’s established democracies. However, in the decade from 2010 to 2019, funding to the media sector as part of official development assistance (ODA) stagnated at roughly 0.3 percent, or, on average, between $300 million and $400 million annually of the roughly $200 billion allocated to foreign aid from official donors. To put this into perspective, between 2014 and 2018, Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spent, on average, over $20 billion per year on health, $18 billion per year on humanitarian assistance, and over $10 billion annually on education.

A more holistic vision for media development is required—one that works, when possible, with reform-minded recipient country governments to build and implement a transformational agenda for the independent media sector. Such an approach requires investing in legal and regulatory structures, building local media capacity at national and regional levels, reforming the business environment for independent media, and catalyzing private capital to grow and scale the most promising news organizations. Journalist associations and civil society organizations committed to upholding a democratic public sphere must also have the capacity to shape the enabling environment for news media. But the amount of aid allocated to fostering a free and open press does not begin to address the enormity of challenges the sector faces and is woefully insufficient to advance the transformational agenda needed to save independent journalism.

Key Findings

The future of independent journalism is in crisis. Escalating threats are driving a record number of journalists into exile and authoritarians are finding new ways to silence journalism, control the information space, and stifle public debate and dissent. Traditional business models for the media are no longer viable in the wake of digital transformations. To secure the future of independent journalism, international aid is critical. And yet, the international assistance community is not meeting the needs of a sector in danger of extinction. Support for media has languished at 0.3 percent of total official development assistance. Out of the more than $200 billion of development aid spent each year, just $317 million on average is committed to support media freedom, pluralism, and independence. While the world’s major democracies have reaffirmed their commitment to saving independent media in recent years, this has yet to translate into a meaningful increase in foreign assistance to the sector.

  • In the face of new crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, donors have come out with strong policy statements affirming the need for quality independent media. Yet few have announced corresponding increases in aid to support media.
  • Six donors provide the lion’s share of foreign aid to media development, but they are also the countries that provide the largest amount of official development assistance overall. Few new countries have answered the siren call and added media development as a priority area for international assistance.
  • Most development agencies are not equipped with the technical expertise to address the sector’s thorniest challenges, including how to improve financial sustainability, build political will for media freedom and independence, and promote local ownership of media development.

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