World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022
The newly released UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022 analyses the state of media freedom, pluralism, independence, and safety of journalists over the past five years. The Report sounds the alarm on the worrying decline of press freedom levels around the world: data and original analysis confirms that 85 percent of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country over the past five years. The Report also examines the impact of COVID-19 on already struggling news media environments, ranging from new restrictions on press freedom to failing traditional business models.
The findings are grounded in the analysis of 160 data sources, conducted by UNESCO in partnership with the Data-Pop Alliance, covering trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence, and the safety of journalists, and supplemented by original research by Economist Impact commissioned for this Report.
Other key findings:
- Journalists are 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.
- New legal measures undermine, instead of bolster, press freedom. Since 2016, dozens of countries have adopted or amended laws and regulations which threaten freedom of expression and press freedom online.
- News media's traditional business model is at a 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.
- Data can aid understanding of and support to the media sector and freedom of expression. Yet, in the countries and communities where journalism is most at risk, the health of the news system often remains a black box.
Independent journalism is in peril, faced with increasing crackdowns on press freedom, ongoing threats against the safety of journalists, and the erosion of business models. In order to effectively respond to these urgent challenges, we must first understand them. The World Trends Report and the data and analysis it presents help move towards that understanding.
Explore the Report by chapter
A call to action
Thirty years ago, journalists from across the African continent adopted the Windhoek Declaration at a seminar organized by UNESCO. This marked the beginning of a remarkable expansion of freedom, pluralism, and independence in news. That expansion owed much to the liberalization of media markets. However imperfectly, the fuel of advertising, copy sales, and subscriptions gave many outlets around the world the resources and independence they needed to bring audiences trustworthy information.
Today, that blueprint is in tatters.
The principles of the Windhoek Declaration were reaffirmed by the 2021 adoption of the Windhoek+30 Declaration on Information as a Public Good, which provides a framework for all actors of society to get involved. It also draws attention to the importance of working for media viability, transparency, and media and information literacy.
The Declaration serves as a beacon for concerted awareness-raising, advocacy, and capacity-building by all who value of journalism, yet recognize that it is also an endangered public good.
The troubling trends highlighted in this Report should be a call to redouble efforts.
In order for journalism to continue to function as a necessary public good, actions could include:
- new regulations for social media transparency,
- independent state subsidies to trustworthy news outlets,
- greater support for genuine public service media,
- increased media development assistance, and
- ramped up philanthropic investments.
All of these need guardrails and vigilance to protect standards of editorial independence and freedom of expression. For their part, journalists have to uphold the integrity of the profession in the face of pressure, and media outlets need to do better at digital innovation.
Find the key figures, trends, and challenges facing free, independent, and pluralistic media worldwide in the Highlights of the Global Report.