4 Conclusion and outlook | #mediadev | DW | 17.11.2021
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COVID-19 and the global media sector

4 Conclusion and outlook

Strengthening the media is a prerequisite, not only for an effective distribution of vital information, but also for the reconstruction of societies stricken by the health crisis.

A woman wearing a mask holds a cellphone and a small flag showing the slogan No free country without a free press and the Reporters Without Borders logo

Protest for freedom of speech in Germany in 2020

Functional media ecosystems are needed for an inclusive recovery. They mobilize problem-solving capacities and empower citizens.

The detrimental effects of censorship, over-regulation and oppression during the pandemic also highlight how urgently journalists need support in holding governments to account and in fostering inclusive development.

Donors and development organizations have reacted and re-aligned funding and implementation of projects to take the pandemic into account. In the media development sector, new approaches have been developed, professional networks and philanthropy have proven to be useful mainstays for independent journalism. Occasionally, governments have also implemented emergency aid measures, as have international donors, to try and ward off the worst effects of the crisis. A number of organizations—foundations, associations, corporate entities—set up some form of financial support to help media houses and journalists through the year of COVID-19: relief funds for freelancers, assistance for fact-checking operations, grants for community media.

The pandemic has also turned out to be a driver for innovation and creativity in the media industry. Numerous media outlets in developing and threshold economies used the suspension of 'normalcy' to try out new formats, test new income sources, and adjust their conditions for advertisers. Being locally embedded frequently proved to be of advantage.

Despite these silver linings, the media sector has been severely affected by the perfect storm that the pandemic has proved to be, as this paper has highlighted. A feasible roadmap out of the crisis requires considerable work to safeguard democracy and human rights, and to promote freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

Portrait of Amartya Sen

"There tend to be serious obstacles to progress when arguments and critical discussions are prohibited, and the interests of some people are persistently ignored." - Amartya Sen, Development economist

At the policy level, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that international legal standards such as Article 19 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or internationally shared objectives like Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 need to be put into practice in order to create a favourable environment for media freedom.

Governments need infrastructural support, enabling citizens to access reliable sources of information online. This should go hand in hand with promotion of media and information literacy to enable citizens to inform themselves competently, but also to make their voices heard and express their opinions. Media-literate users run less of a risk of being taken in by disinformation, or of sharing it.

At the organizational level, media organizations need digital and legal expertise. The digital challenges include issues of digital security, online journalism quality, and technical expertise. COVID-19 has also highlighted deficits regarding health journalism, and journalists need to be equipped with these skills to provide the public with reliable information.

And finally, new business models are needed by media outlets, perhaps with hybrid revenue streams made up of donations, memberships and advertising, in the context of sound conditions for competition and a media law framework that supports freedom of expression. Management strategies, cost structures and editorial processes need to be refined in order to successfully navigate the digital transformation. The media need to develop strategies to become more resilient in times of crisis and there needs to be a debate on how best to achieve this, taking different contexts into account.

Censorship, surveillance, intimidation and violence remain obstacles on the path to universal access to information and freedom of expression. But the pandemic, whilst clearly a challenge, is also a chance for free media and independent journalists to regain lost trust. To this end, development actors such as governments, donors, and civil society organizations can render their support. The aforementioned recommendations sketch out such a pathway towards sustainable post-COVID information ecosystems.

This page is part of the article "COVID-19 and the global media sector. Developments and ways forward" on #mediadev:

Main article

1 Key challenges to freedom of expression

2 Professional journalism and media viability

3 Media and information literacy and digital inclusion

     4 Conclusion and outlook


You can also download the discussion paper as pdf.

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