Measuring News Media Sustainability: Towards a Global Barometer

Milburn-Curtis, Coral and Nel, Francois Pierre orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4378-9171 (2018) Measuring News Media Sustainability: Towards a Global Barometer. Project Report. Innovation Research Group, Manchester / Oxford.

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UNESCO and others concerned with the sustainability of the news media worldwide have recognised that if this issue is to be managed, it needs to be measured and monitored. Over the last three years, several frameworks for media viability indicators have been proposed. However, calls for their implementation have not been answered - until now. This document reports on the construction and operationalisation of a proposed annual Media Sustainability Barometer (MSB). The MSB is a quantitative index offered as a tool to both measure and monitor the media ecosystem, in terms of its sustainability across key contributing forces - and much more. This tool has the power to model how changes in the ecosystem impact on media sustainability in specific countries or blocs, and also to estimate how the media environment impacts on other spheres of society, including those identified in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As such, it addresses the gap in existing initiatives, by bringing together mixed-source media viability indices proposed by UNESCO, Deutsche Welle Akademie and others, into one objectively derived quantitative index. In doing so, it offers the opportunity to analyse and understand the complex dynamics amongst spheres of society that shape, and are shaped by, a sustainable, pluralistic and diverse media sector.

KEY FINDINGS: This pilot study into factors shaping the sustainability of the UK media in the context of the G7 bloc of highly industrialised nations noted that the single biggest influence was the political environment as indicated by World Bank databases on control of corruption; political stability; strength of governance; voice and accountability; and regulatory quality. In other words, the more stable the political situation in a country, the more sustainable the media. Of the components of this factor, the element which makes the most significant contribution to the political environment is regulatory quality. Almost as significant, as an influence on media sustainability, is the environment in which the media operate - specifically press freedom; trust in the media, journalists and platforms; innovation; journalistic autonomy, influence and advocacy and plurality. This emphasises the need for greater scrutiny of policy and regulation across the range of environments - direct media policies, certainly, but also related policies on economics, justice, technology and social inclusivity, which all impact on media sustainability.

EVALUATION: This pilot study demonstrates that the MSB can model a range of factors that contribute to the sustainability of the media - in any one country, group or region - in any one year, or as an analysis of trends over time. The MSB is constructed using globally indexed data and expert panel survey contributions, and is represented as a) separate indices for each country and region, for a large range of relevant variables, b) a single MSB index for 264 countries, plus regions and World Bank Territories, and c) aggregated factors that contribute to the overall MSB. In particular, it seeks to address the gap in existing media viability indices by modelling underlying contextual factors, such as the economic, political, legal, social, technological and digital environments that impact on the media. Using the statistical technique of structural equation modelling, individual measured variables are modelled into latent constructs, which then estimate statistically the predictive relationships between different aspects of the media sustainability ecosystem.

CONCLUSIONS: In this pilot, we explain how the MSB has been created and how to use it to explore media sustainability in the UK, in the context of the G7 and the BRICS blocs, but stress that it can be used to model media sustainability for any country, region, geographic or economic group. We demonstrate how the MSB can be used to model the media sustainability ecosystem by offering relevant examples created using the new index. The initial findings provide some early headline measures that could be used to understand how and where current international and national contexts, and potential interventions, can or do make a difference to media sustainability. Similarly, our early findings suggest opportunities to consider media sustainability efforts as a means to shape other areas of national, and international, public life. Developed by the Innovation Research Group (IRG), in collaboration with the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) and with further support from the Google News Initiative, the MSB offers the opportunity to address the existing shortcomings in the objective measurement and monitoring of the media environment, with a view to helping those acting in these areas do so with better information.

WIDER RECOMMENDATIONS: This pilot study shows that media and communications policies are central to many of the social and political issues societies face today. In doing so, it invites questions about whether policies pursued in the past are ft to respond to rapid changes and complexities of contemporary social and digital contexts. It suggests the need for a companion benchmarking study to understand and evaluate the current state of media policy within and across countries and regions, in order to identify best practice and to shed light on areas and means of performance improvement.


Section title
Section author
Executive Summary
Introduction: The Core Challenge
What is the Media Sustainability Barometer
The Pilot Study: Measuring Media Sustainability in the G7 and BRICS
The Future for the Media Sustainability Barometer
Conclusions & Recommendations
About the authors

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