1. Problem statement

Section 1 of the GFMD 2021-2025 draft strategic plan.

1.1. Introduction

In only two decades, changes in the political, technological, social, and business environment have compromised sustainability and, thus, the independence of journalism and news media.

Democracy and fundamental freedoms are deteriorating globally. More than 90% of the world’s population lives in countries where the level of press freedom is regarded as problematic, difficult or very serious.

Media freedoms have been regressing over the past decade with new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike. Systems that underpin the professional production of news and reliable information face challenges even in the most advanced democracies.

Not surprisingly, indicators related to journalism and media are typically the first to go down in countries facing a decline of democratic institutions and human rights.

From 2009 until the present day, close to 200 radio stations have gone off-air in Venezuela, creating large areas without local news. More than 30 million people in Brazil live in “news deserts” - municipalities that do not have news outlets. At least one-third of Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared since 2010, while the United States has lost 2,100 newspapers in 15 years.

At the same time, the profession of journalism itself is being re-examined.

Covid-19 pandemic has amplified converging crises, including the demise of journalism’s economic model. The coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism.

1.2. How market failure leads to deterioration of media freedom and independence

Collapsing advertising revenue:

Advertising revenue for news media globally has been in free fall since 2008, plunging from $103 billion to $49 billion in 2019.

Due to COVID-19, this figure has declined by a further 25% in 2020. While the overall online advertising market is expected to continue growing at a compound annual rate of around 20%, digital ad revenue largely circumvents news publishers.

This decoupling of advertising and journalism content is a result of two long-term trends.

Firstly, by taking advantage of high market concentration, large platforms and intermediaries have captured the digital advertising market and other critical digital business segments, and compromised market plurality and quality of our information ecosystem.

Secondly, firms that specialize in ad tech allow advertisers to block their ads from appearing next to anything a brand considers “controversial,” including journalism and news content. This is now becoming a dominant approach in content moderation and new "anti fake news and disinformation" legoslative proposals.

Profound changes in news distribution and consumption:

Audiences are increasingly accessing news through their mobile devices, social media and messaging platforms.

Users consider social media less trustworthy, impartial and accurate than other major news platforms.

However, due to availability, reach, and the current system of incentives and recommendations, quality content is relatively disadvantaged in the economies-of-scale model that platforms are pursuing.

Ownership concentration and media capture:

A small number of individuals and organisations control increasing shares of news media production, distribution, data collection and advertising channels.

Research shows that newspapers and local media are among the most vulnerable.

A significant threat to editorial independence in a growing number of countries across the world is “media capture” —a form of media control achieved through collusion between governments and powerful interest groups.

1.3. What are the opportunities to address the gap for journalism funding?

Digital markets for news

While it would be easy to dismiss digital advertising and declare it irrelevant for the revenue portfolio for journalism and news media, the future of our overall information system is intrinsically linked with digital markets and how the Internet is governed. Authorities in Australia, Europe and the U.S. are setting the stage for future regulation.

The pandemic has substantially increased demand for trustworthy media on the consumption side, with television news and online sources seeing significant audience growth. News publishers are building lasting relationships with readers willing to pay for online content in the form of subscriptions, memberships, access to premium articles, donations or micropayments.

However, even in countries with higher levels of payment, “winner-takes-most” dynamics are persisting for digital news. While still an essential part of the revenue mix, digital circulation revenue, estimated at only US$5 billion in 2019, will not address the overall gap left by advertising decline. In addition, relying mostly on subscription and membership models raises the question of whether all segments of society will have access to independent journalism and reliable information.

Public funding, subsidies, and cross-subsidies

Subsidies and different models of state aid have been historically used in Europe and other regions, mainly to secure media pluralism and local reporting, and to maintain competition.

Existing subsidies and support mechanisms are insufficient to address the dearth of local reporting and the failure of the market and to preserve journalism as a public good. The Cairncross Review in the U.K. has called for direct and indirect subsidies, tax relief and other forms of financial incentives.

One of the forms of media that still has strong public funding is public service media. This model is increasingly under attack and has unfortunately been less successful in developing countries and outside of Europe. The problem remains that in many countries, governments use their budgetary influence to capture the media.

Philanthropy and donor support

Support for journalism and independent media in developing democracies, post-conflict regions, or those plagued by media capture has been a fixture in international development since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Official development aid (ODA) funding for media development is around US$500 million per year.

In the most developed markets, philanthropy plays an increasingly vital role in providing support for non-profit news.

A combination of commercial income, audience contributions, and donor funding is rapidly becoming the new, hybrid business model for the independent, non-profit journalism sector.

Numerous initiatives are looking at ways to drive systemic change, scale funding, and eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of effective collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and creating scalable systems for supporting non-profit news organizations.

Without new public funding, regulation of digital markets, and international support systems for non-profit media, independent professional journalism is in danger of becoming an expensive luxury rather than a universal public good.

1.4 The media development and journalism support sector’s role

Support for journalism and independent media has been a fixture in the international development agenda since the fall of the Soviet Union.

As research by CIMA and others has shown, access to impartial media plays an essential role in supporting good governance, promoting human rights and eliminating poverty.

More recently, donors and implementing agencies have shifted their focus to combating disinformation and propaganda in an effort to stymie state-sponsored efforts to undermine the credibility of democratic processes and institutions.

Donor landscape

Despite the pledges made by the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the donor landscape remains complex and fragmented.

Donors, philanthropists and intermediaries often lack the mechanisms to identify and commit to projects or organisations which have the potential to deliver long-term impact.

Meaningful coordination and effective collaboration – particularly across borders – remain the exception rather than the rule.

The imbalance of skills between the Global North and South – particularly in terms of securing and managing grants – remains a challenge.

The current crisis has thrown these issues into sharp relief, renewing calls for objectives to be better articulated and streamlined.

There is an urgent need to drive systems change and address the obstacles which stand in the way of effective collaboration and knowledge-sharing by:

Continuing to build the high-level political will and donor capacity needed to increase support to and bring new donors into the media sector.

Enhancing the effectiveness of media sector support by making it more demand-driven and coordinated by further improving data, learning and knowledge sharing mechanisms and practices.

To strengthen approaches to international cooperation focused on the support to journalism and media sector institutions with new and innovative funding strategies.

1.5 Lack of advocacy capacity and representation

Even though the media development and journalism support community have an extraordinary track record in freedom of expression policy and advocacy, there are very few organisations that have the resources and expertise to effectively identify advocacy opportunities, implement research and analysis, produce adequate and relevant documents, and successfully advocate on media pluralism and viability/sustainability.

There is a knowledge and expertise gap related to digital markets, competition policies, state aid rules, media pluralism, and future digital and media regulation that needs addressing for our sector to be able to appropriately advocate for the inclusion of joint policy positions into current policy discussions.

We are facing a similar situation when attempting to develop policy and advocacy addressing the wider UN system, OECD donors, World Bank and other Development Banks and related institutions, other global and regional intergovernmental bodies and initiatives, individual governments, private sector and advertising industry etc.

Given the scale and urgency of the problem, and all relevant regulatory and policy conversations happening at the moment, we need to address the capacity of our sector to have its voice heard and successfully impact policy changes.


This draft strategic plan will be presented for discussion at a special session of the GFMD General Assembly on 1 October 2021. For more details and to find out how to participate see:

page1 October 2021

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