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WAN-IFRA and UNESCO join forces to support journalism in the face of existential economic menace

2020-11-24. The announcement of the co-operation was made at the 40th-anniversary celebration of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), an inter-governmental forum for media development.

by Andrew Heslop andrew.heslop@wan-ifra.org | November 24, 2020

As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, the decimation of journalism in many areas of the world constitutes a growing threat, bringing existing challenges to a tipping point. Each month brings new reports of job losses in journalism and the closure of once-vibrant local media outlets.

“Professional, independent journalism is critical for providing populations with life-saving information during this crisis and plays an essential role in building and strengthening our democracies, justice and peace,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay. “We are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s impact on local economies threatening the viability of local news media and we are committed to leading global efforts to overcome this challenge.

As part of the new initiative, a number of joint activities will be undertaken in coordination with a range of partners, including governments, media, civil society, financial institutions, internet companies and other private corporations, philanthropic organizations, individual donors, advertisers and investors.

The two organisations will co-operate to research the extent of the crisis, consult with stakeholders, share knowledge and present policy recommendations that could help support the viability of the news media. WAN-IFRA, with its membership of 3,000 news publishing companies, and 60 national associations representing 18,000 publications in 120 countries, will bring its experience, extensive data and international networks to the initiative.

The envisaged outcomes of the initiative are: 

  • National, donor and corporate policy agendas have established more strongly the value of a range of mechanisms for support to independent media.
  • Independent media are sharing knowledge on best practices of media viability and resilience, and innovating their business models and their advocacy accordingly.
  • Knowledge built about challenges and solutions to business models in the global south and is being used by key media development stakeholders (media, state, private sector, Internet companies, civil society).
  • UNESCO Member States are reflecting on media viability at the global level, impacting on norms through raising awareness of the crisis and the need for remedial actions.

The objective is to help catalyse new forms of sustainable business models, especially for community media and those in the global South, and establish the appropriate mechanisms to ensure urgent support, while respecting media editorial independence and integrity.

“Through this initiative, UNESCO and WAN-IFRA are committed to reaffirming the democratic norms essential to the functioning of society,” said the President of WAN-IFRA, Fernando de Yarza. “We hope to see the agendas of governments, major donors and public policy experts converge on the vital need to strengthen support for a free, independent press thanks to the solutions this work will propose.

Independent journalism will be more critical than ever in shaping the societies that emerge as the world rebuild following this global crisis. If independent journalism is lost as a public good, everyone loses. Without this initiative, much of the news media as we know it may disappear. Much of that which remains will likely be operating with fewer reporters and weakened professional standards and independence.

The two organisations, founded under the same spirit of democracy and historically linked through the promotion of shared values, also appeal to all those who share a common interest in seeing media plurality, journalistic independence, and quality journalism continue. Without it, we put at risk the news media’s important role empowering citizens to make informed decisions about the future of their communities and shape our common understanding of the world around us.


WAN-IFRA President Fernando de Yarza’s announcement on the occasion of the 40th-anniversary celebrations of IPDC.

I would like to thank the Director-General of UNESCO, Madame Audrey Azoulay, for her recognition of the importance of free and viable independent news, and for her enthusiasm for this partnership that UNESCO and WAN-IFRA are announcing today.

It is my honour to be here on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the International Programme for the Development of Communication. As one of UNESCO’s most important areas of work, the Programme’s essential activities, have supported media worldwide in confronting some of the most difficult challenges.

Today is no exception, and on behalf of WAN-IFRA, I congratulate all those – past and present – whose efforts have contributed so much and look forward to many more years of collaboration between our organisations in support of media development. To those participants in this event who are Ambassadors and other dignitaries, WAN- IFRA greets you with respect. In these efforts, your role is not to be underestimated and we highly value your support.

Let me also greet and express appreciation to all participants joining us today, because each individual and every organisation also has a big part to play. Awareness of the challenges facing media is something that all of society needs to have, and each participant here can help sound the tocsin. Because unfortunately, this is precisely what we are faced with, in the global news industry. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our world, and even as we begin to see a glimmer of light dawning in this year of darkness, we – the media industry – are confronting our greatest challenge yet.

In every country, the pressures on journalism have reached a breaking point. The pandemic has greatly accelerated an already precarious financial situation, leaving media everywhere as vulnerable as never before. In a few short months, we have gone from warning of the potential disappearance of journalism to facing this harsh, unprecedented reality face on. It is a reality we urgently need to address – we cannot allow information deserts, to spread or lose the rich diversity and plurality of opinion, that makes up a healthy media ecosystem. We must push back on the information vacuum created by the loss of quality, professional news and resist all those who seek to exploit this catastrophic situation.

We cannot idly stand by, as media working in the public interest are replaced by misinformation and ultimately… silence. This is why UNESCO and WAN-IFRA — two institutions founded under the same spirit of democracy, and historically linked through the promotion of shared values — are uniting under this initiative to identify, secure and distribute, the financial resources that are urgently needed for a free press to survive. Through this initiative to support journalism, we aim to strengthen mechanisms for financing from all sources and ensure support to media organisations is delivered.

We are looking to share knowledge of resilience, examine the viability and new ways of doing business. And we seek to reaffirm the democratic norms and policies that connect us. We hope this work will have immediate application as well as lasting impact to help address the global emergency facing independent journalism and the media organisations that produce it.

WAN-IFRA is a global community of media made up of passionate individuals whose lifeblood is news. Since our inception in 1948, we have charted the highs and lows of an industry devastated by war, challenged to adapt by the arrival of new technologies, and confronted by obstacles to freedom. We are unique – as an organisation, and as an industry – in that, we uphold a human rights mandate while at the same time, safeguarding the skills and business acumen of generations of media professionals.

What I wish to convey to you here today is that this UNESCO/WAN-IFRA initiative is not just a project on paper, with an abstract set of goals and targets. It has urgent application in the real world, a fact I can testify to on a deeply personal level. My family have been publishers in the beautiful Spanish region of Aragon for the last 125 years, 5 generations committed with journalism, democracy and freedom. my great grandfather was murder 100 years ago at the front door of the newspaper by an anarchist, and We have survived five wars, one of them with more than a million deaths, and also 40 years of dictatorship. But today we are more concern than ever, because of the COVID, the risk of bankruptcy, of hundreds, thousands of local newspapers like ours around the world, that inform citizens, make them freer and are a fundamental pillar of democracy.

On behalf of the news industry and for our societies at large, WAN-IFRA will work in partnership with UNESCO to deliver a way forward. This collaboration is as old as the institutions of UNESCO and WAN-IFRA themselves, dating back to our very early days as we found our way in the aftermath of the last great existential threat to media freedom. We are not strangers to each other, or unfamiliar with the task ahead. Latterly, our support to the work of the IPDC, notably in advancing the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, has become vitally important to our industry.

Which brings me to my final remark, dedicated to those killed, and those imprisoned simply for doing their work as journalists. Today I want to remember, on behalf of all of them, my Venezuelan friend Roland Carreño, unjustly detained by the Maduro regime for the sole crime of doing his job, telling the truth. To Roland, his sisters, family and friends, and to all the Rolands of the world, I want to dedicate my memory and most special support.

While it is essential to continue on every front in efforts to save our industry, we must never forget the sacrifices made by the courageous men and women who have gotten us to where we are today. Without them, we simply would have nothing worth saving.

View the pubic announcement on Youtube


Contact and Inquiries

Andrew Heslop, Executive Director Media Freedom WAN-IFRA. andrew.helsop@wan-ifra.org


ABOUT WAN-IFRA WAN-IFRA is the World Association of News Publishers. Based in Paris and Frankfurt, with regional offices in Chennai, Singapore, and Mexico City, its mission is to protect the rights of journalists and publishers around the world to operate independent media. WAN-IFRA provides its members with expertise and services to innovate and prosper in a digital world and perform their crucial role in society. With formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe, it derives its authority from its global network of leading news publishing companies and technology entrepreneurs, and its legitimacy from its 60 national association members representing 18,000 publications in 120 countries. www.wan-ifra.org

ABOUT IPDC The IPDC’s unique role has been continuously reaffirmed in the UN resolution, “Information in the service of humanity”, adopted on annual basis by the General Assembly. Thanks to the IPDC, there are internationally agreed indicators to assess media and internet development. The Programme is also the cradle of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity – amongst many other achievements. The Programme over four decades has supported more than 2,000 media development projects with grants of more than 120 million USD in 140 developing countries. Read more