WASHINGTON, July 7, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- IREX's 2021 Vibrant Information Barometer (VIBE), highlights several factors—the global financial downturn, governments withholding information, and misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic— impacted the media and information sector in 13 countries throughout Europe and Eurasia.
After almost 20 years of conducting the Media Sustainability Index, IREX developed the Vibrant Information Barometer with USAID funding to capture and measure how information is produced and utilized today. Through expert in-country panels, VIBE seeks to assess how vibrant countries' information systems are in the digital age and examines newer concepts, such as media literacy and information bubbles, along with media resources and information quality in the media and information sector.
The 2021 edition of VIBE shows that the 2020 global economic downturn triggered by the pandemic further compromised a media sector already struggling with reduced operating resources. While no specific research exists yet on COVID-19's effect on Serbia, data presented in a USAID-supported forum in the fall of 2020 showed that the advertising market in early 2020 contracted. Moreover, as advertising throughout the region has become increasingly politicized, media outlets are more susceptible to politically motivated benefactors who affect editorial content, leading to increased self-censorship.
Panelists throughout the region highlighted the measures their governments took to suppress public health information and COVID-19 data. The Georgia panel observed that the country's leading public health authorities froze out media outlets for asking critical questions, and that journalists' already limited access to public information further deteriorated. Russia's government–imposed COVID-19 restrictions gave authorities leverage to limit public oversight of the 2020 constitutional vote and the September 2020 regional and local elections.
Finally, governments throughout the region withheld information, while misinformation—including rumors and conspiracies about the pandemic—ran wild. Many were localized versions of unsubstantiated international plots related to implanting microchips or the role of 5G technology. The North Macedonian panel noted that despite the lack of formal data, two fact-checking operations in the country cited that approximately two-thirds of the articles they debunked in 2020 were related to COVID-19.
VIBE is made possible by the support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). VIBE includes country reports and the VIBE Explorer dashboard, for examining and comparing data trends, regions, and individual countries.
Shelton Roulhac, Director of Strategic Communications, IREXsroulhac@irex.org