The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the high value of independent media, drawing record numbers of people to reliable news and information. With a combined audience of 262 million people – a record high in our 25 years of work and double the total reach in 2019 – 95% of MDIF-supported media declared that they had carried out work around Covid-19 that had an impact on their communities. This vital work demonstrated once again that media – in keeping with our mission statement – are key in providing the news, information and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies.
These are some of the findings from the 2021 Media Development Impact Dashboard, our annual analysis of MDIF’s impact results, both in terms of the impact of our investments on media businesses we support and their impacts on society. The special focus of this year’s Impact Dashboard is Covid-19 and the disruption it had on media performance.
The overall picture painted by our analysis clearly indicates that the pandemic had a major impact on clients’ performance in 2020. Nine out of ten MDIF-supported companies reported that Covid-19 had a negative impact on their business. Seven out of ten viewed the economic impact and decline in revenues as the biggest challenge. Among companies active in both 2019 and 2020, more than half saw their revenues decrease from year to year, and nine out of ten saw the risk rating we use to assess their viability rise.
As a countertrend, however, audiences for high-quality media rose dramatically. Eight out of ten companies increased their reach between 2019 and 2020. In the new reality, with millions of people retreating to the safety of the online world, nearly eight times more people received news from our clients online (233 million) than through traditional means (29 million). MDIF clients experienced their peak audience in mid-March, coinciding with the WHO declaring Covid-19 a pandemic, reaching 312 million people that month.
At a time when lives were at stake, media helped people stay safe, bringing much-needed information about the virus and government responses. 95% of MDIF clients reported carrying out work around the pandemic that impacted on their communities, from exposing health mismanagement to investigating fraud in procurement. They also brought about transformative changes to their communities in areas beyond Covid-19. MDIF clients declared that they created impact through journalism and information-sharing in areas of corruption and accountability (78%), social issues (89%) and elections (44%).
Despite the uncertain and precarious media business environment and immense challenges created by the pandemic, we found that MDIF investees continue to grow their businesses while working with MDIF. After five years of working with MDIF, clients increase their revenues by 205% and reach by 190% on average, while the risk rating we use to assess their viability worsened only slightly, by 11% on average. These are remarkably positive results given the challenges created by the pandemic and are a testament to the professionalism, creativity and resilience of our clients.
These have been and will continue to be challenging times, but there are reasons to look forward with optimism. We work hard to ensure that our investees are better off than they would be in the absence of our support, with our efforts focused on helping them to emerge from the emergency leaner and more resilient. The value of our support is reflected in clients’ evaluations. Three out of five MDIF investees agreed or strongly agreed that there had been positive changes in their company because of their involvement with MDIF over the past year. Meanwhile, six out of seven of those who received strategic advice and venture support agreed or strongly agreed that there have been positive changes in their company as a result of media advisory.