The State of State Media

Who funds, owns and manages, and editorially controls the world’s state media

The government’s control in the state media has reached extremely high levels, according to data gathered in our State Media Matrix. Nearly 80% of the 546 state-administered media companies in 151 countries covered by this report lack editorial independence, analysis of the State Media Matrix data shows. More than 80% of the 436 media outlets whose editorial agenda is controlled by the government in various ways are media companies that fall into our state-controlled media category comprising outlets predominantly funded, managed and editorially controlled by the government.

Of the 110 state media that have editorial independence, only 18 qualify as independent public service media. Most of them, a total of 11 outlets, are based in Europe, and most of the independent public media in Europe, a total of seven, are based in five Western European countries (Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, UK). The rest of them are one in Southern Europe (Portugal) and three in Central and Eastern Europe (Czechia and Lithuania).

In contrast, there are no independent public media outlets in Eurasia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latina America and MENA, a strong indicator of the widening gap between the quality and reliability of news and information in the West and the poor output of high-quality news output in the rest of the world.

On the other hand, state media in Europe are faced with numerous threats as governments and political groups are stepping up efforts to gain more control of the media.

First, although Europe has a high number of independent state media, many of them are in the independent state-funded and state-managed category, which is the most at risk from an editorial point of view. A total of 24 media outlets in this category in Europe present the highest risk to lose their editorial independence and slide into the state-controlled category.

Second, Europe is faced with a high incidence of cases of captured media outlets, 27 media outlets, a third of all such cases worldwide. A total of 19 of them are media outlets with private ownership, mostly oligarchic structures that have ties with state authorities, that follow an editorial line ostensibly supportive of the government.

The vast majority of the European captured media are located in the Central, Eastern Europe and Turkey region, a sign of the declining media freedom in Europe’s post-communist nations and in Turkey. They include countries such as Croatia with a captured public service broadcaster, Hungary, Poland and Turkey with a slew of captured privately owned media companies, and Serbia, with both. It is also notable that the public media in Poland, Hungary and Turkey fall in the state-controlled category, which shows the extreme degree of media capture in these countries.

The two other captured cases in Europe are in Greece and Italy, and they are both public media players, which have been under the control of the government since time immemorial.

Other parts of the world with a high incidence of media capture cases are Asia and MENA region where the state media are in a much worse situation than in Europe due to the much larger state control. In Asia and MENA, for example, the state-controlled type of media outlet accounts for 74% and 63% of all their state media, respectively, much higher than 20% in Europe.

State Media: Where To Next?

The state media in the world is far from being healthy. The number of independent state media continued to shrink in the past decade as reforms to transform these media into independent public media organizations have mostly failed all over the globe. At the same time, in their attempts to keep up with the latest trends in the media field, governments stepped up efforts to build stronger and more influential media organizations whose main purpose is to promote and propagate their views, interests and policies.

Although that has led to a massive growth of the state media as a sector, it didn’t lead to more independence, improved quality of reporting or diversity of content. On the contrary, it further spurred political polarization and encroached upon the quality of news reporting.

As governments across the world are now engaged in a harsh information war following an extremely turbulent period characterized by a series of profound economic and health crises as well as a steep decline of democracy, the future of state media looks bleaker than ever. Only in a couple of months in 2021, a round of political developments such as the resignation of the Tunisian government and the power takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan are expected to have a negative impact on the independence of the state media in these countries.

At the same time, the continuous transformation of the media and communication sphere triggered by the rapid tech advancement, which influences how people consume and engage with the media, is forcing independent state media, especially public service broadcasters, to adjust to the new realities. In many cases, these changes, such as the adoption of new funding models or governing structures, are likely to fundamentally alter the very concept of public service media as it was understood in the broadcast era of the last century. The impact of these transformations on the editorial independence of the public media organizations will decisively shape their future.

This being said, it is precisely these threats to the independence of state media and the shambolic state in which so many state media in the world are that should prompt experts, journalists, civil society and progressive political forces to renew efforts aimed at rebuilding the public service media into resilient organizations able to protect themselves from government pressures.

Without such a concerted effort, the imbalance between a small group of developed countries whose audiences have access to a rich, fact-based news and information diet and high-quality content, and a vast array of nations whose people are fed with propagandistic information is going to irremediably amplify.