COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom. But functioning media are a precondition for an inclusive recovery. How can development actors address the challenges?
Amidst an ongoing global decline in democratic freedoms, the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the work of media outlets and independent journalists. Functioning media are, however, a precondition for reliable information, government accountability—and for an inclusive recovery from the repercussions of the global health crisis. What are the most pressing challenges the media have faced during the pandemic? And how can these challenges be addressed? What can governments, donors and civil society organizations do? This article highlights—as does this DW Akademie discussion paper—some of the most relevant problems and recommendations on how to tackle them.
Fragility, poverty, decline in democracy: The COVID-19 pandemic poses tremendous challenges for humanity. Global human development has deteriorated for the first time in three decades in the wake of the health crisis. The ongoing tendency towards authoritarian governance in many parts of the world exacerbates this trend. Civic rights and spaces for civil society engagement are under pressure in many regions.
Media freedom is increasingly threatened, too. Beyond blunt repression by authoritarian governments, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a whole series of structural weaknesses within modern information ecosystems: economically unbalanced media outlets, a massive spread of disinformation, a lack of resources and skills among journalists, as well as insufficient media and information literacy on the part of audiences at large.
Against this backdrop, the purpose of this discussion paper is to pinpoint the fields in which the media face the greatest COVID-19-related obstacles in putting the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information into practice. The recommendations are meant to serve as guidelines to governments, donors, development organizations and to everyone aiming to support the media in providing reliable information, and in holding governments to account—not least with regard to the pandemic and related policies.
We base our conclusions on the assumption that citizens must be able to inform themselves freely in order to make considered decisions involving their social concerns, and for no-one to be left behind. The pandemic has shown what can go wrong when people lack access to reliable news, when they are inundated with false information, cut off from crucial knowledge sources or are deprived of essential data and facts.
The COVID-19 pandemic shows how important, even existential, accurate information is for both individuals and society. In order for media to increase their resilience and the international community to emerge stronger from this crisis, it is important to take a holistic look at information ecosystems during the pandemic and to find ways of strengthening them.
Please click through this article's sections for further reading.
1 Key challenges to freedom of expression
Governments across the globe have used the pandemic as a pretext to restrict press freedom. The use of digital technology in the attempt to contain the coronavirus has violated fundamental rights in many places. Authoritarian rule and digital surveillance put the safety of media and journalists in jeopardy. Read more
2 Professional journalism and media viability
During the pandemic, professional journalists were under pressure to provide vital information to the public under difficult circumstances. Media houses suffered from the economic downturn and a severe slump in advertising markets. Read more
3 Media and information literacy and digital inclusion
More than half of the world's population has access to the Internet. However, media and information literacy is needed in the face of increasing disinformation. The pandemic also threatens to exacerbate the divide between those who have access to digital spaces and those who do not. Read more
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. Functional media ecosystems mobilize problem-solving capacities and empower citizens. Read more
Click here to access the list of linked sources of the discussion paper "COVID-19 and the global media sector. Developments and ways forward" .
You can also download the discussion paper as pdf.