Defending the news, dissecting the challenges

The latest UNESCO report examining global trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development from 2016-2021 highlights the existential threat social media now poses to the very survival of the professional news media.

The Report

The World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development series analyses trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence, and the safety of journalists. The Global Report, published every four years since 2014, provides a macro-level perspective that informs UNESCO Member States, international organizations, civil society groups, academia, and individuals seeking to understand the changing global media landscape.

The latest report outlines the enormous pressures heaped upon journalists today. The stresses include mounting attacks on their safety and security, especially in countries in conflict or with severe criminality problems. The threats extend to curbs on professional independence, disproportionate legal penalties and the criminalization of journalism. Increasingly, journalists’ jobs are at stake, putting a question mark over the future supply of news in many places.

Four out of five of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom over the past five years, according to the new UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022. COVID-19 also hammered an already struggling news media environment, corresponding with new restrictions on press freedom and collapsing business models.

Key highlights

  • Journalists under attack: From 2016 to the end of 2021, UNESCO recorded the killings of 455 journalists, who either died for their work or while on the job. At the same time, imprisonment of journalists has reached record highs. Journalists covering protests are routinely harassed.
  • New legal measures undermine, instead of bolster, press freedom: Since 2016, 44 countries have adopted or amended laws and regulations which threaten freedom of expression and press freedom online.
  • Business model at breaking point: Growing numbers of media outlets have been forced to cut down on staff or close their doors permanently. Just two companies, Google and Meta, now receive approximately half of all global digital advertising spending.

UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022

Other reports in the series can be found here:

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