In 2016, widespread misinformation fueled hate-filled public debate in the United Kingdon and was a major contributor to the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Since then, the country’s decision to leave the European Union has had very negative economic consequences, resulting in lower productivity, less sustainable public finance, and stagnant wages.

Also in 2016, misinformation and disinformation were a contributing factor to the defeat of the “yes” vote in the plebiscite on the peace accords that the Colombian government had been negotiating since 2012 to end a 50-year-old internal war. Despite the ultimate implementation of the accords, the outcome of this plebiscite undermined political will for peace. Today, the country continues to experience some degree of armed conflict.

More recently, in 2022, the national election in Kenya was also nearly derailed by an epidemic of fake news and deep fakes that threatened to push the country into a cycle of violence like the one seen in 2008.

And just this week, there were reports of rampant misinformation as a key factor in the climate of hate and fear in Indonesia against Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The situation is perhaps best encapsulated by an attack against a refugee shelter in Banda Aceh this past December.

However, despite these corrosive effects of unchecked digital misinformation on democracy, peace, people’s livelihoods, and human rights, wealthy countries responsible for providing overseas development assistance (ODA) seem blind to the critical role that democratic media and communication can play to bring this situation under control.

This appears to be one of the conclusions of a recent report published by the Centre for International Media Assistance in the United States, which analyzed ODA funding flows between 2010 and 2019 and concluded that funding to media-related activities stagnated at 0.3 %, or between USD 200 and USD 300 million, of the roughly USD $200 billion annual international development expenditure. This adds to the many struggles affecting media around the world, especially in relation to financial sustainability.

The lack of investment in media is not only a misguided oversight on the part of donor community, but also a tragedy in the making. To ignore media and communication in a world where misinformation and disinformation is seen as the main global risk by the World Economic Forum, and where a megalomaniac, riding on wave after wave of lies and misinformation, is leading in the polls for US president and putting US democracy at risk is absurd and risks democratic governance the world over.

And while there have been efforts to begin to address this issue, such as the launch of the Media Freedom Coalition and the establishment of the International Fund for Public Interest Media, these are not sufficient, as expressed by WACC’s own grassroots media partners who regularly experience major difficulties accessing ODA funds.

In this light, WACC calls on donor countries and private funders to ramp up media development spending urgently and significantly, and to do so following the following three principles:

  • Democratic, transparent, and accountable communication is a fundamental right and underpins democracy.
  • Democratic, transparent, and accountable communication, including the often-overlooked community media sector, is essential to promote social cohesion, trust, and belonging at both the local and national levels.
  • For communication to be democratic, transparent, and accountable, it needs to be inclusive of marginalized voices, such as vulnerable women, Indigenous and racialized communities, and youth.

WACC looks forward to working with partners across the world to fight misinformation and disinformation, promote structural changes to communication ecosystems, and advance communication rights from the bottom up.

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