How the Private Sector Can Strengthen Healthy Information Ecosystems

Anna Kompanek, Jaxson Cooper

As we gear up to observe World Press Freedom Day in early May, supporting independent journalism and freedom of expression remains a top priority for the global democracy agenda. Companies and business organizations can take impactful steps to counter threats to healthy information spaces.

Supporting Media and Access to Information

Free and independent media are the cornerstones of democracy and thriving market economies. Yet, in many countries freedom of the media has been in decline and, according to the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, the environment for journalism is ranked as “bad” in seven out of ten countries and “satisfactory” in only three out of ten. Challenges to the traditional business model of journalism have, in recent years, been magnified by media capture by authoritarian-leaning governments and the proliferation of false information, especially across social media and increasingly with the use of artificial intelligence.

Fragile democracies are particularly vulnerable to these threats as weak institutions and deteriorating information ecosystems erode trust between the private sector, civil society, media, and government. In CIPE’s experience, local businesses are frequently overlooked stakeholders on this issue, even though they are increasingly feeling the repercussions such as rising consumer distrust, risks to brand reputation, and difficulties accessing reliable market information. Smaller businesses, lacking the resources to endure these setbacks or prepare adequately in advance, may simply be forced to close.

What Businesses Can Do

At the same time, local businesses have an important and often underappreciated role to play in protecting the information space. To that end, CIPE, in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and partners around the world, has been working to enhance the strategic engagement of local private sector stakeholders in efforts that strengthen healthy information ecosystems.

CIPE and CIMA’s joint research pointed to several ways in which the business community can support a healthy infosphere globally. The recommendations highlighted the need for more examples of the impact of private business support for independent journalism; advocacy to bring awareness to the role of independent journalism in democracy and markets; and constructive business engagement with the media to develop new mechanisms of support with donor organizations and NGOs helping to facilitate these relationships. The subsequent in-country and regional initiatives supported by CIPE illustrate how investing in facts can be effectively operationalized.

Promoting Ethical Advertising in Czechia

In Eastern Europe, initial efforts focused on ethical advertising. A common concern for local businesses and advertisers is that they may be unknowingly funding authoritarian-sponsored media outlets that threaten the integrity of the information space. The scope has since expanded to exploring innovative models for funding independent media, with the most prominent example coming from Czechia, where the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ), created by local business leaders, supports independent journalism to address the growing politicization of news media ownership. Impact investing and blended finance are other promising models that private sector actors can use to help finance independent media. CIPE and CIMA, in collaboration with the United States Mission to the European Union, advanced these ideas through an event in Brussels held earlier this year. This event gathered leading thinkers, corporations, publishers, and financiers to identify new approaches toward enhancing private sector investment in independent media.

Advancing Beneficial Ownership Transparency in Armenia

In Armenia, the proximity to Russia combined with a polarized political environment and reliance on informal news sources such as social media create vulnerabilities in the information space. CIPE’s earlier efforts with local partner Freedom of Information Center for Armenia (FOICA) toward the passage of the beneficial ownership transparency law contributed to protecting information integrity.

The law makes identifying funders of media companies possible for the public, creating a degree of transparency that informs consumers about whether information may be influenced by untrustworthy ownership. CIPE then worked with FOICA to strengthen information ecosystems in the country by supporting media literacy training among local companies and pursuing national-level policy advocacy. The latter efforts successfully facilitated private sector input into Armenia’s National Strategy Against Disinformation and fed into the development of an action plan to implement this pioneering strategy.

Holding Cross-Sectoral Roundtables in Nigeria and Kenya

In Africa, attacks on the information space can be focused, targeting specific businesses, or widespread, stoking tension along political, religious, or ethnic lines or promoting conspiracies and confusion about important events such as elections. Whether to gain an unethical advantage in politics or disrupt a business competitor, these threats to the information space come at the expense of businesses and consumers. Furthermore, previous legislative attempts to protect information integrity online have come at the expense of civil liberties, such as access to the internet, freedom of speech, and free and independent journalism.

Working with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) Foundation and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), CIPE held roundtables in Kenya and Nigeria focused on information integrity. Participants established recommendations for further collaboration between the private sector, media, and the public sector, especially when it comes to fact checking and training for media outlets to ensure accurate reporting.

Establishing Media Partnerships in the Philippines and Beyond

CIPE has also been working in the Philippines to advance the private sector-media dialogue through a partnership with the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA), the largest and oldest advertising association in the country, and Makati Business Club (MBC), one of the Philippines’ most prominent and influential business voices. Furthermore, CIPE plans to expand this line of work to Latin America where serious challenges to the integrity of information ecosystems persist and the local private sector can play an important role to counteract these troubling trends.

Published Date: April 25, 2024