the coronavirus pandemic rages on, journalism around the world seems to face
increasing difficulties. In my country, Denmark, local media outlets are
suffering major economic set-backs and are already seeking state support. Such
is the fragility of media operations that even in one of the most affluent
countries in the world, with ample resources for public and private outlets,
the disruption of social and economic life has immediate repercussions.
it comes as no surprise that independent media and local outlets in a majority
of the world are running on life support amid this global crisis. No part of
the world and no economic sector has gone unscathed.
indefinite border closures, restricted entry and grave health risks, getting a
full picture of this pandemic is no easy feat, even for media giants.
community reports from local journalists with unique access, have become
essential tools in fighting a growing information vacuum. It is indeed a
paradox that, while hundreds of millions of people across the globe scramble
for factual information to navigate the crisis, media outlets themselves are
fighting for their existence. As we mark World Press Freedom Day, it is more
urgent than ever that we support independent media platforms, especially those
organically emerging within their local eco-systems.
we, at Copenhagen-based International Media Support (IMS) transitioned into
“crisis management” mode in this period, our media partners across the global
south reacted with remarkable composure. While the western world is learning to
hunker down in home offices, adaptability is in the very DNA of independent
results of our partners’ work, from Syria to the Philippines, are clear. They
are playing vital and at times life-saving roles in this pandemic period.
persisting conflict, community radio stations like ARTA in northern Syria are
relaying information about symptoms and prevention measures to local
populations. Amid panic and paranoia in Pakistan, outlets like Humsub (All of
Us) are producing a combination of citizen testimonies and expert insights. In
the Philippines, there has been a proliferation of podcasts, like PUMA, that
are dispelling coronavirus-related myths, with significant reach. Amid
restricted media landscapes, all of these outlets are helping overlooked
communities to combat the spread.
a direct result, independent media across the world are also experiencing
increased trust among their viewers. This is particularly true in countries
where state media is failing to deliver timely information and where partisan
media is creating biased coverage. For example, in Lebanon, Daraj Media, a
pan-Arab platform that provides in-depth reporting, experienced a 46 percent
audience growth in this period. In the Philippines, Rappler, a social news
network, had 2.5 million viewers during a live Facebook session on COVID-19
awareness. In Iraq, al-Menasa, one of the few independent media in the country,
experienced a 25 percent growth in audiences.
the pandemic has instilled a renewed sense of purpose among media of all sizes,
it has also wreaked havoc on the field of journalism. We are seeing a palpable
increase in attacks on the press across the globe. The International Press
Institute has been recording the intensified violations since the pandemic,
from physical assaults in the US, to greater censorship in the Middle East, to
arrests and false charges in several African and Asian countries.
this very reason, “accountability journalism” has never been more important on
a global scale. The accountability is twofold. First, journalists are
investigating government responses to the pandemic, and holding officials and
institutions accountable when they have failed to protect their citizens.
Second, newsrooms are challenging authorities that manipulate COVID-19-related
emergency legislation to curb freedoms.
unique access and in-depth coverage of our media partners prove that a
well-working prototype for community-based reporting that can plug into the
larger global media picture already exists. It is a matter of strengthening the
capacity and longevity of these outlets.
this pandemic has revealed that despite our seemingly connected world, a “one
size fits all” remedy simply does not work. Whether it is in combating the
disease, the economic and social consequences of the lockdowns, or relaying
life-saving information, each country and its context warrant different
example, South Korea’s approach of contact tracing and aggressive testing might
suit some of the densely populated countries of the world, while a
“shelter-in-place” mechanism is more feasible in Scandinavian countries. Only
through transparent information sharing can countries learn from each other’s
experiences while keeping in mind differences in their circumstances.
is an opportune moment for governments, international foundations and citizens
to financially support independent media across the globe as an investment in
our collective futures. Amid shrinking newsrooms and restricted access due to
contagion, there is great value in media of different sizes and capacities
collaborating to present a more comprehensive view. I see this as a period of
transformation. The current crisis has proven beyond doubt that we cannot turn
a blind eye to an event in a faraway corner of the world, as it will eventually
make its way to our door-step.
Now more than ever, we need contextual media coverage of this unfolding situation in order to return to some semblance of normal life. We must also be able to link the social, economic and environmental causes of this contagion to combat future instances. Our new normal must include a plurality of voices in news media across the globe.