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Public interest infrastructure: Digital alternatives in our data-driven world and journalism’s role getting there

March 22nd, 2023  •  Author:   International Media Support  •  3 minute read
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This report examines why digital infrastructures are crucial to the work and survival of independent media, particularly in Majority World countries, and why the current infrastructures are a serious threat to press freedom, access to information and democracy.

It also presents inspiration, examples and recommendations to what a broad range of factors can do to create alternative public interest infrastructure and explains why media is a crucial actor to include in these processes.

First, a timeline introduces the key shifts in media and information distribution throughout time.

The first chapter, Digital infrastructure that serves the public interest, outlines basic elements of what public interest infrastructure is and why the scale of our current problems in the digital space forces us to focus more on locally anchored alternatives. It is based on a range of interviews and public events over the past year and a half with leading journalists and tech experts, including IMS partners, from around the world.

Moving closer to the local context, Online risks and social resilience in Myanmar analyses the advantages and dangers of current digital infrastructures in Myanmar, particularly regarding social media and messaging tools. The analysis looks into how digital platforms have increased trust levels and direct communication, but also concludes that the price of these developments has been very high, and that the services posed a threat to the public’s safety after the military coup on 1 February 2021.

Building on leading academic research, Who controls the internet in Myanmar presents a mapping and analysis of the ownership and control of Myanmar’s digital infrastructure, from cell towers and undersea cables to apps, and its consequences for local media and the public. The researchers conclude that the military is in a prime position to turn the country into a digital dictatorship.

The last chapter, How to get there: reimagine, build and scale in the public interest, analyses and proposes what steps independent media, the media development community, global and local communities, governments and donors can take towards creating digital infrastructures that better serve the public interest locally and globally, while introducing solutions that excites us – like local, slow-moving social media platforms and a tool to measure the public interest value of an organisation’s current and future tech procurements.

Finally, the report rounds off with a list of recommendations to catalyse the ambitious work towards the vision of public interest infrastructure. These reflect that we need to join, form and support coalitions with diverse skills and a shared vision at local, regional and global levels.

Watch the discussion from our launch event on public interest infrastructure.

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