Panafrican News Agency

Social media poses ‘existential threat’ to traditional, trustworthy news: UNESCO

Paris, France (PANA) - The business model of the news media is ‘broken’ and with it, our fundamental right to information is at risk, a new report of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) examining global trends in freedom of expression warns. 

In the past five years, it said, both news audiences and advertising revenues have moved in huge numbers to internet platforms, with only two companies - Google and Meta (formerly known as Facebook) – soaking up half of all global digital advertising spending.

A UN statement said UNESCO analysed media development trends from 2016 to 2021 and found that global newspaper advertising revenue has fallen by half during the five year period.

The report indicates that news outlets often struggle to get clicks from readers that determine advertising revenue, and many find themselves “squeezed out” by the proliferation of new voices in the online space and algorithms of digital intermediaries.

“The digital ecosystem has unleashed a flood of competing content and turned large internet companies into the new gatekeepers,” the study explains.

Moreover, with social media users nearly doubling from 2.3 billion in 2016, to 4.2 billion in 2021, there has been greater access to more content and more voices - but not necessarily with the distinctive added value of journalistic content, the study says.

The report said the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the trend worse by exacerbating the decline of advertising revenue, job losses and newsroom closures.

In a pandemic, journalism is a life-saving frontline service. However, false content related to COVID-19 spread rapidly on social media, while journalistic job cuts created a ‘significant vacuum’ in the information landscape, particularly in low and middle-income countries.

“In September of 2020, over one million posts circulated on Twitter with inaccurate, unreliable, or misleading information related to the pandemic, according to the COVID-19 Infodemics Observatory, an initiative of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler”, UNESCO details.

Meanwhile, a survey among 1,400 journalists found that at least two-thirds of them now feel less secure in their jobs, because of the economic pressures of the pandemic.

Besides the economic and misinformation/disinformation hurdles journalists face, in the past five years, they have also continued to be targeted around the world.

From 2016 to the end of 2021, UNESCO recorded the killings of 455 journalists, who were either targeted as a result of their work, or while on the job. Almost nine out of ten killings remain unresolved, shining light on a general impunity for these crimes around the world. 

According to the report, there have also been increasing threats to the safety of journalists not only from governments and criminal groups but also from private lobbies and from some members of the public who feel increasingly emboldened to launch slurs and attacks online.

In fact, a surge in online violence against journalists is another new and evolving trend, and one which disproportionately affects women journalists all around the world, the report said. 

-0- PANA MA 11March2022