What Does Independent Journalism Look Like in the Digital Age?

If you worked in an industry—one absolutely critical to the proper functioning of society—but which exposed you to constant harassment and danger, how would you feel?

This is the situation that many of the world’s journalists find themselves in: punished, vilified, imprisoned, attacked, even killed, for uncovering and reporting the facts. Supportive editors fired, cameras smashed, websites attacked, presses silenced, communications compromised, stories suppressed. From China to Bulgaria to Nicaragua, newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations, and the journalists working for them have faced threats of these kinds.

What you may not realize is that, in many cases, working journalists and media organizations find themselves at the sharp end of these threats as a result of policy, law, and regulations that are either failing and inadequate, or deliberately repressive and controlling. 

Today we’re publishing the global findings of our Mapping Digital Media project, investigating the forces affecting digital media and journalism in 56 countries worldwide—one of the largest such studies ever completed—researched and written by teams of local experts. The reports examine 15 of the world’s 20 most populous countries, covering more than 4.5 billion of the world’s population, and 16 of the world’s 20 largest economies. The reports reveal common themes across the world:

  • Governments and politicians have too much influence over who owns the media, who wins licenses to operate newspapers, radio and TV stations, and how the media are regulated—all of which undermines independent journalism.
  • Many media markets are not free and fair, but are dominated by a few major players, and are rife with corrupt or non-transparent practices.
  • Media and journalism on the internet offer hope of new, independent sources of information, but are also a new battleground for those seeking to control information.

It’s striking how, across 56 countries of every type and size, these issues crop up again and again: political interference, control or even ownership of the media, lack of affordable access to the internet, declining resources, and worsening labor conditions for journalists. One key finding makes clear how vitally important it is for the public interest to have vigorous civil society involvement in the media policy process: without consistent civil society participation, laws are likely to be of lower quality, and are less likely to be properly implemented.

But the upside also comes across clearly in the Mapping Digital Media reports. If digitization is handled in the public interest, it can help advance open society values. Despite the vast and continuing challenges facing independent media worldwide, there are signs in many countries that progress is being made, with inclusive media policies being developed or in prospect.

On an international level, a growing coalition of civil society groups is looking to ensure that the post-2015 development framework includes for the first time a measure on freedom of the media. And increasingly, other sectors are recognizing the importance of supporting and protecting the media on a structural, systemic level. Governance, transparency, and accountability in particular depend on a healthy, robust independent media and journalism sector.

For independent journalism to thrive, policy, law, and regulation all need to change and update to take account of the real and evolving needs of journalism itself as an independent force in society. From increasing channel diversity and market transparency, to supporting new revenue models for independent journalism and greater civil society engagement in media and communication policy, to protecting the safety, security, and sources of journalists, the opportunities are within our reach.

The Mapping Digital Media research we’re releasing today—accessibly written and focused on the public interest dimensions of the media environment—adds a new dimension to the wealth of analysis and diagnosis from policymakers, academics, regulators, and industry players. The time has come for the opportunities created by digital media to be grasped.

16 Comments

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Investigative Journalism has been fragmented and undermined by the advent of the internet on one hand but on the other it gives a voice to many conflicting opinions instead of just one as we had in newspapers!

The Truth is hard to define as it can be manufactured and manipulated to support vested interests? I believe this has left its audience confused and deeply suspicious & divided which is probably the end game?

Despite journalists like James Foley giving their lives to obtain the Truth it is structured and presented according to the Newspaper owners views & prejudices thereby negating the value of the life lost?

News must now be sifted and weighed by the audience according to rules of Common Sense, social responsibility & justice as to leave it to TRUST is no longer a viable alternative, if it ever was?

Let's look for alternative ways to inform the public and circumvent the strategies to attack journalists and journalism. I would like to propose a conversation for ways to do this through new pathways. Thank you, Melissa

Dear Melissa,

Thanks a lot for the offer. Can you tell us more about the alternative you are thinking about?

Thanks,
Marius

I'd like to come to my own conclusions and my favored form of reporting is time/date/event/location related to story. I have little tolerance for all the ' what if ' questions as our country is riddled with enough anxiety. Give me the facts/events.

I look forward to reading this...there are important questions that need examination.
Charles Glasser
http://www.charlesglasser.net

thank you

There's no place where the findings are more true than the Middle East where governments, the elites and even civil society are cracking down on media for exposing their corruption, secret dealings and their relationships with the regimes. Also, rich regimes are investing heavily there sapping independent media of talent and forcing them into a corner. Looking forward to hearing more on your Middle East findings if any.

See Michael Ignatieff's article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books on the new authoritarians--mainly Russia and China. But the fact is that a free media is a threat to any government--even in relatively free societies like the US--since the media is a check on the accumulation of the power of government but does not have any of the institutional levers of power that formal government bodies (judiciary, executive, legislative, law enforcement) have. While a free and unencumbered press is enshrined in our constitution, the media is not formally given a seat at the table here or anywhere else, and therefore it is too easy to at best ignore, but too often persecute, the media when it starts to do its job effectively. A more Darwinian way of looking at this is that the executive controls the military and police. The media control neither.

It is in such times that the voices in the marginalized of society need to be empowered so that they can gain the confidence to speak up for themselves and create awareness. Be equipped with journalistic tools that they can use to express their own plight in new communication streams.

The issues you have highlighted here are incredibly important.

Here in Hungary, under the corrupt and tyrannical Orbán government, most of the news broadcast to the countryside is from the government propaganda machine, just as it was under communism. This is done by simply not giving any opposition radio and TV stations frequencies beyond Budapest.

There is no investigative journalism for all the reasons which you have mentioned. Journalists are eliminated not so much through violence (though some have been threatened) but simply by dismissal from any jobs, since most heads of institutions are under government control. Without an income, how can a journalist live, unless they move abroad.

And things are further complicated here because, ironically, our resident, British, BBC journalist is married to a Hungarian whose family supports the corrupt Fidesz government, so his articles, while seeming to “report”, are cleverly manipulated and deliberately leave out huge chunks of important facts vital to the story.

Several of us have complained repeatedly to the BBC in the UK about this, pointing out that their resident reporter has vested interests here, but they close ranks and continue to allow dangerously biased "reporting".

Furthermore, my complaints to the BBC about this have ended in sinister and menacing telephone calls to me in my home, immediately after my complaints, and only after these complaints. I am quite certain that these were carried out by someone close to the journalist in question.

I love the BBC but am shocked and dismayed that, in Hungary, it seems to go against everything which it stands for.

Proper investigative journalism, which discloses corruption in high places regardless of personal danger or consequences is vitally important because in our global world, international pressure can, and often does, effect a change for the better.

am a social magazine journalist in Ethiopia as every body knows currently Ethiopian situation is very much horrible.The Ethiopian government should immediately drop politically motivated charges brought against 10 bloggers and journalists on July 17, 2014, under the country’s deeply flawed anti-terrorism law.

The Ethiopian authorities arrested six of the bloggers and three journalists on April 25 and 26. They have been detained in Maekelawi, the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector in Addis Ababa. The court charged the nine with having links to banned opposition groups and trying to violently overthrow the government, local media reported. A tenth blogger, who was not in Ethiopia at the time of the arrests, was charged in absentia.

“Ethiopia’s courts are making a mockery of their own judicial system,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Hiding behind an abusive anti-terrorism law to prosecute bloggers and journalists doing their job is an affront to the constitution and international protection for free expression.”

The charges are part of an intensified crackdown in Ethiopia in recent months against perceived political opponents, Human Rights Watch said.

The six bloggers in custody are Atnaf Berahane, Befekadu Hailu, Abel Wabela, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, and Zelalem Kibret. Soliana Shimeles was charged in absentia. The three journalists are Tesfalem Waldyes, Edom Kassaye, and Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, an editor at weekly magazine Addis Guday.

The bloggers are part of a blogging collective known as Zone 9, which provides commentary on current events in Ethiopia. The Zone 9 group had stopped blogging in February after security officials harassed the group and questioned them about their work and alleged links to political opposition parties and human rights organizations.

In light of current events to gravely limit our internet access, we just might need to resort to other means of gathering information. Necessity is a mother.... a vitally necessary one.

Criteria of truth in reporting potentially correct and make prevenient the construction of facts from a multi-perspectival moment in history: what journalism creates with breaking news writing is both the identification of the essential and need to know happening and the clarification of precisely what is known, and what remains to be investigated. The definition and boundary set by each reporter thoroughly prepares an understanding and makes possible consideration of the many facets and meanings to be interpreted, as the whole story unfolds. Most efficiently and supremely, digitalization media reporting can save lives, record history, invent relationship and carry civilization forward. The Open Society Institute presents the power within discussion of the rules in so gentle and precise a way as to encourage the responsibility of readers and groups who open the website and see the programs the OSI provides. This is phenomenal. And what can resuscitate the noncoercive vitality and decision-making reality of discourse: law. Civil society. Query. Independent counsel. Popular enthusiasm. Every good artefact of the free society follows from liberty of the press used prudently and transmitted in digitized media.

I think it is time for journalist to wake up and adopt and new way of getting their in formation.

Although journalists have always been under threat in countries led by dictatorial regimes, the intolerance towards media freedom is evidently spreading to established democracies. These global findings of the Mapping Digital Media Report confirm that political regimes in developing and third world countries detest the influence of the media in this digital age. The civil society organizations across the globe should rise up to these challenges and protect the gains of digital media.

Thanks alot for this revelation. The hindrances to independent journalism are inter-related world wide. Here in Uganda, journalists are never at ease to do investigative journalists. Government only wants to call them when they feel like doing so but it is treated like tress pass to publish a story negatively talking about them. Quite often, journalists have seen themselves behind bars for ''peddling lies and sedition''. The world over, we need to to put in place measures that promote independent journalism and improve the working conditions our journalists

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