UNESCO and the World Association of News Publishers (Wan-Ifra) are joining forces to address the impending global emergency facing independent journalism. The announcement of the co-operation was made at the 40th-anniversary celebration of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), an inter-governmental forum for media development.
As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact, the decimation of journalism in many areas of the world constitutes a growing threat, bringing existing challenges to a tipping point. Each month brings new reports of job losses in journalism and the closure of once-vibrant local media outlets.
“Professional, independent journalism is critical for providing populations with life-saving information during this crisis and plays an essential role in building and strengthening our democracies, justice, and peace,” said the director-general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay. “We are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s impact on local economies, threatening the viability of local news media, and we are committed to leading global efforts to overcome this challenge.”
As part of the new initiative, a number of joint activities will be undertaken in coordination with a range of partners, including governments, media, civil society, financial institutions, internet companies and other private corporations, philanthropic organizations, individual donors, advertisers, and investors.
The two organizations will co-operate to research the extent of the crisis, consult with stakeholders, share knowledge, and present policy recommendations that could help support the news media’s viability. Wan-Ifra, with its membership of 3,000 news publishing companies, and 60 national associations representing 18,000 publications in 120 countries, will bring its experience, extensive data, and international networks to the initiative.
There are many envisaged outcomes of the initiative. National, donor, and corporate policy agendas have established more strongly the value of a range of mechanisms for support to independent media. Independent media are sharing knowledge on best practices of media viability and resilience and innovating their business models and their advocacy accordingly. Knowledge built about challenges and solutions to business models in the global South and is being used by key media development stakeholders (media, state, private sector, Internet companies, civil society). UNESCO member states are reflecting on media viability at the global level, impacting on norms through raising awareness of the crisis and the need for remedial actions.
The objective is to help catalyze new forms of sustainable business models, especially for community media and those in the global South, and establish the appropriate mechanisms to ensure urgent support while respecting media editorial independence and integrity.
“Through this initiative, UNESCO and Wan-Ifra are committed to reaffirming the democratic norms essential to the functioning of society,” said the president of Wan-Ifra, Fernando de Yarza. “We hope to see the agendas of governments, major donors, and public policy experts converge on the vital need to strengthen support for a free, independent press thanks to the solutions this work will propose.”
Independent journalism will be more critical than ever in shaping the societies that emerge as the world rebuilds following this global crisis. If independent journalism is lost as a public good, everyone loses. Without this initiative, much of the news media as we know it may disappear. Much of that which remains will likely be operating with fewer reporters and weakened professional standards and independence.
The two organizations, founded under the same spirit of democracy and historically linked through the promotion of shared values, also appeal to all those who share a common interest in seeing media plurality, journalistic independence, and quality journalism continue. Without it, we put at risk the news media’s important role empowering citizens to make informed decisions about the future of their communities and shape our common understanding of the world around us.
The IPDC’s unique role has been continuously reaffirmed in the UN resolution, “Information in the service of humanity,” adopted on annual basis by the General Assembly. Thanks to the IPDC, there are internationally agreed indicators to assess media and internet development. The program is also the cradle of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity – amongst many other achievements. The program, over four decades, has supported more than 2,000 media development projects with grants of more than 120 million USD (approximately Rs 887 crore) in 140 developing countries.