Independent journalism in contexts of shrinking civic space

– The report by Free Press Unlimited, published in 2021, is accessible here


Independent media face serious challenges as a result of democratic backsliding and the accompanying trend of shrinking civic space. Illiberal political actors seek to delegitimize their work and limit their ability to uncover information, reach an audience, and hold powerholders to account. But independent media are also a part of the solution.

In this publication, FPU has investigated the strategies that independent  media (can) use to deal with the challenges of shrinking civic space. We have collected 5 case studies, which have been selected to illustrate different strategies. Each case was selected so that it would highlight different types of challenges and strategies.

Focus areas are:

hrinking civic space manifests itself differently across countries, depending on the possibilities and priorities of those in power, the overall context of civil society, and the media landscape. By embedding the descriptions of strategies applied by existing media outlets in a thick description of the context, we enable readers to assess to what extend their context and challenges are similar to those found in each case study. The findings from the case study chapters are synthesized in the Conclusions chapter. It contains recommendations of practices and strategies, clustered by objective or problem area:


Section 1: All audiences have access to independent media

    • Reaching wider audiences
    • Effective and independent local media


Section 2: Independent media are seen as credible

    • Professional standards
    • Resisting delegitimization


Section 3: Independent media hold powerholders to account

      • Accessing information
      • Impacting accountability


With this publication, we hope that media practicioners who find themselves faced with restrictions and challenges can find lessons and inspiration from the experience of media outlets that have been dealing with these problems for longer. In addition, media support organisations and policy makers can use it to see what efforts by media outlets are potentially effective and should be supported or facilitated.


Read the report