The latest edition of UNESCO’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development has been published and is now available online.
Current developments paint a picture of both vast opportunity and steep challenge. Among the major trends over the past five years identified by the report are:
- A stronger right to seek and receive information, but more restrictions on the right to impart. Freedom of information and open data activities have expanded, but conditions for journalists, including protection of sources and protection against various forms of harassment, intimidation and exclusion have declined.
- More plurality of information, but no change in gender inequality in and through the media. The trends indicate that while access is increasing and content is abundant, media pluralism remains inhibited in important ways. The dominance of large players is affecting traditional media.
- Among the significant aspects of press freedom that are at stake, media independence is among the most vulnerable. Disruptions in business models and declining autonomy of independent regulators was contributing to increasing dependence on government and corporations.
- According to UNESCO figures, the number of journalists killed in a five-year period increased substantially. Growing attacks on journalists – a trend that may have been even worse if it were not for the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
The World Media Trends Report analyzes developments across the four key focus areas of media freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists.
Under the period of analysis, continued legal restrictions including criminal laws against defamation, national security concerns such as anti-terrorism laws and large-scale shutdowns of internet access have been seen on the rise. Such trends have seriously affected media freedom, while posing a serious threat to freedom of expression.
Wholesale disruptions (like internet shutdowns) have become much more common. ‘Fake news’ has emerged as a phenomenon in some regions undermining media legitimacy with a consequent challenge for appropriate and proportionate government responses that do not weaken media freedom. Gender gaps in journalism and law continue to affect the implementation of full media freedom.
The Report also notes that the availability of media content has dramatically increased, largely through user-generated content on social media, while large internet companies have emerged as key platforms for individuals to access news and information. Yet, these transformations have been marked by the proliferation of unverified news across internet companies’ networks and the raise of ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’ due to algorithm-ranked search results.
Additionally, the Report recognizes the worsening problem of news media losing money and becoming less sustainable. Disruptions in business models have been seen as contributing to increasing dependence on government and corporate subsidies in some circumstances, and thereby raising concerns about potential impacts on editorial independence.
Disempowered and marginalized peoples continue to have great difficulty reporting their stories or having their stories fairly reported on, large numbers of people remain digitally unconnected and women remain unequal in the media. Furthermore, a limited number of large players, particularly algorithm-driven internet companies and the rise of mobile apps, are increasingly structuring how users may or may not be able to reach specific information.
Declining autonomy of independent regulators, disruptions in business models have been seen as contributing to increasing dependence on government and corporate subsidies in some circumstances, and thereby raising concerns about potential impacts on editorial independence. In some cases, there has been an increase in highly antagonistic criticism, including from leaders, about media and the practice of journalism.
In regards to the trends in safety of journalists, according to UNESCO report, the number of journalists killed in a five-year period increased substantially (216 journalists were killed in 2007-2011 in comparison to 530 journalists in 2012-2016). From the other hand, 2017 was the first year of decline of killings of journalists. At the same time, trends in arbitrary detention, abduction and torture are reportedly growing in some regions.
With a special focus on gender equality in the media, the World Media Trends Report highlights that only one in three reporters and only one in four media decision-makers are women. Moreover, the ongoing issue of online harassment of women journalists can have a chilling effect on women working in the media, further detracting from media pluralism.
The 2017/2018 edition was co-produced with the University of Oxford, in close co-ordination with lead researchers at the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Pennsylvania. A global network of regional researchers, graduate research assistants and an expert Advisory Group also contributed to the Report.
Specific overviews analyzing the media trends in six regions will also be published by the end of May.
Since its first publication in 2014 thanks to the support of Sweden, the World Trends Report has become a key reference for Member States, international and civil society organizations and academics seeking to understand the opportunities and challenges facing press freedom at the global and regional level.
For more information, visit: https://en.unesco.org/world-media-trends-2017
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