The covid-19 pandemic has reminded us just how much audiences rely on quality, fact-checked journalism to access vital news.
However, in many countries, independent journalism is under threat not just because of the political situation, but because of the economic one.
To help the media respond to these challenges, Brussels-based journalism support network Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) issued an emergency appeal in May this year. The initiative now has nearly 180 supporters, including Reporters Without Borders, Article 19 and Thomson Foundation, and provides a framework for media advocacy.
"We decided that we don’t want to publish just another letter. We wanted to look at what dangers actually threaten the very existence of journalism," says Mira Milosevic, executive director of GFMD.
The appeal is mostly aimed at governments and donors - two large groups that have an important influence on how the media sector is shaped in their countries and internationally. The GFMD calls for ensuring respect of journalists’ fundamental rights, access to covid-19 information, and release of imprisoned journalists, amongst other demands.
When it comes to calls for financial support, the network focuses particularly on local journalism because it plays a key role in preserving democracy. Gaps in the funding of local media need to be filled either by audiences, including large donors, or national governments. In countries where news organisations are reluctant to accept government money to preserve their independence, GFMD proposes solutions, such as tax deductions or relief on news product subscriptions.
To provide practical help, the network also creates more specific packages for investigative journalism organisations, media associations and other activist groups, to lobby their governments for better support for journalism.
But should we support all journalism? If we ask for funding of local news, should we also support national tabloids? And if we agree that we only want to support high-quality news, who will determine what that actually means?
Milosevic says that, as an industry, we are having a hard time agreeing on what makes up high quality news. This sends an unclear message to governments and tech companies about who they should support.
The project, however, does provide some guidance as to what factors contribute to quality, ethical journalism, based on governance standards by the Journalism Trust Initiative, and draft recommendations by a Council of Europe committee and its declaration on sustainability of quality journalism.
An important part of the appeal addresses tech companies - if we want to provide a plurality of opinions and access to information, the current ecosystem is not sustainable. Among the proposed solutions is verifying journalists’ social accounts so they can benefit from enhanced safety features, and reviewing algorithms and moderation practices.
This article was updated on 28 July 2020 with additional information about the GFMD guidance on defining quality journalism.
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