Market reforms, rebuilding trust, and digital regulation and innovation were key themes to emerge from a series of consultations on media viability in Namibia, Tunisia, and Lebanon organised early this year. GFMD has released three country reports that bring together policy recommendations for supporting journalism and independent media in these countries.
The consultations built upon the previous UNESCO policy brief titled Finding the funds for journalism to thrive: policy options to support media viability, along with other relevant reports and literature. The goal was to stress-test and contextualise global policy recommendations.
Stakeholders and representatives from local media, media development organisations, policymakers and donors came together in each country to identify which of the policy options were most applicable in their circumstances as well as how the wider media support sector could collaborate to advocate or jointly work towards them.
The locally-led consultations were facilitated by Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) in partnership with UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and local implementing partners:
- Lebanon: Maharat Foundation and Samir Kassir Foundation
- Namibia: Editors’ Forum of Namibia and Namibia Media Trust
- Tunisia: Al Khatt, Pamt2 and Pencils Consulting
The national-level consultations facilitated by this project have provided valuable bottom-up insights into ‘lived experiences’. The process of working with local partners to determine the prioritisation of recommendations from recent research and policy papers for comprehensive national consultations underscores the effectiveness of this approach in guiding discussions on local media viability.
These collaborative meetings play a crucial role in empowering local policy knowledge networks and expertise, thereby supporting media viability policies that are grounded in the local context and incorporate the perspectives of all stakeholders.
The process of working with local partners to decide which recommendations from recent research and policy papers should be prioritised for in-depth national consultations demonstrates that this format provides a clear framework from which consultations on local media viability can be led.
Considering the implications of political context is also essential when developing locally driven approaches to media viability. In many instances, meaningful and supportive legislative reforms are unlikely to materialise in the near to medium term. Moreover, opportunities for diversified commercial revenue, online payment systems, or paid subscriptions are severely limited in certain cases. Therefore, media stakeholders need to be realistic about incorporating normative actions into their strategies for supporting local media viability, prior to designing and implementing them.
That is not to say that long-term goals are not needed. Policymakers, both local and international, have a role to play in providing sustained support for media viability. Nonetheless, if locally driven consultations aim to define practical actions, they must also clarify how and when these actions can lead to tangible change.
- In Tunisia, five key recommendations were made to improve the media industry. The first recommendation is to reform the media market by collecting data, developing new public policies, regulating economically and rebuilding trust with the public. The second recommendation is to restructure the advertising market by better measuring the audience, reassessing the advertising value chain, reconsidering the relationship between media and advertisers and reusing public advertising as the first lever. The third recommendation is to support digital transformation by helping existing media to digitally transform, as well as by supporting the investment in technological infrastructures. The fourth recommendation is to align donor funding with local issues to ensure that the media support the interests of their local community. Finally, the fifth recommendation is to incentivise talent retention, capacities and skills related to economic and managerial issues, in particular to media management and the challenge of existing business models.
- One of the key recommendations coming from the roundtable and mentioned in the discussion paper in Namibia is the importance of developing regional solutions to address new challenges posed by emerging technologies and digitisation to both legacy and independent media and in line with wider efforts to promote democracy and economic development across the African continent. The Namibian state is asked to consider relevant measures and regulations for big tech companies in collaboration with the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, CRAN, and other government stakeholders, at the very least to ensure revenue sharing. It should look into revising the Communications Amendment Act, 2020 (Act No. 6 of 2020) which makes provision for the imposition of a universal service levy that will operationalise a Universal Service Fund for the media and designate the media as a public service to encourage the promotion of the viability of journalism and the media industry. Donors are asked to support an active dialogue around the role of Big Tech at a sub-regional, continental, or even international level and invest in the development of a model for community media which can be transferred to national, traditional mainstream media where a synergised ecosystem between the media and its audiences exists.
- A set of recommendations is proposed for stakeholders who wish to support media viability in Lebanon, including those urging the Lebanese state to bring media laws in line with international standards including decriminalising defamation and blasphemy in collaboration with international organisations and civil society actors and immediately take steps to ensure the physical, digital, and psychological safety as well as the protection of journalists. It should also aim to create a favourable regulatory, legal and taxation environment which can provide financial incentives for media organisations. Donors and media development agencies should provide small, independent, and alternative media with long-term and stable, pluriannual funding. They should engage with international actors to exert international pressure on the Lebanese state to adopt the necessary reforms needed to foster an enabling environment for independent journalism and freedom of expression.
In all cases, the need for better coordination and collaboration across the sector was emphasised. The challenges brought about by an unregulated approach to the advertising market and private sector were also shared across the three countries. There was a demonstrable need to develop responses to digital innovation and change and its effect on the media industry. It is clear from the three country studies that local mainstream and traditional media are less than sophisticated in terms of digital advancements and platform convergence. In addition, big tech is unmistakably seen as an aggressive competitor in these reports. They are seen to dominate local markets with little by way of regulation to ensure a fair, transparent, and more stable business and content environment for the media. In these three cases, while digital and platform regulation was seen as essential. A discussion about the lack of public awareness of the current challenges facing the media also took place in all three countries. The Afrobarometer has indicated that journalists are viewed with as much suspicion as politicians, something that needs to be addressed by regaining the trust of the public. It was argued that this can only be done through sustainable delivery of quality and ethical journalism. Developing national public policies that can support and enable the media to fulfil its role in democracy and be sustainable in rapidly evolving and in some cases restrictive ecosystems was at the core of each set of recommendations and actions which emerged from the consultations.
Related GFMD briefings and activities
In partnership with the International Press Institute (IPI) and Media Impact Funders, GFMD IMPACT organised a roundtable to discuss investing in independent media: its importance to democracy and ways to ensure its long-term financial viability, in light of growing threats to press freedom around the world. The roundtable was organised on the sidelines of the IPI’s 2022 World Congress, which ran from September 8 to 10 at Columbia University.
In the lead-up to the second Global Conference for Media Freedom, Canada commissioned a set of independent policy papers on media freedom. The aim of these policy papers was to engage in a broader discussion with experts on challenges facing media freedom; stimulate debate and discussion on policy recommendations; and help inform the Media Freedom Coalition’s future work. GFMD Executive Director, Mira Milosevic, wrote a policy paper on Media Independence and Sustainability.
On March 29, GFMD’s partners from the national consultations in Namibia, Tunisia, and Lebanon presented some of these recommendations to policymakers, donors, and other stakeholders at a panel “Media Viability in Crisis” on the sidelines of the Second Summit for Democracy in The Hague. To know more about the event, check out this Twitter thread.