Whose media freedom is being defended? Norm contestation in international media freedom campaigns

Martin Scott, Melanie Bunce, Mary Myers, Maria Carmen Fernandez

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This paper analyses how international advocacy campaigns approach and define media freedom, and what influences this process. It does this through a two-year case study of the Media Freedom Coalition - an intergovernmental partnership of over 50 countries - that included 55 interviews with key stakeholders, observations, and document analysis. This revelatory case sheds light on how norms of media freedom are constructed and contested on the international stage, and their implications for journalists, media freedom and geo-politics. We show that the Coalition adopted a state-centric, accountability-focussed, and negative understanding of media freedom. This discourse legitimised a narrow, reactive and ‘resource-light’ approach to supporting media freedom, focussed on ‘other’ countries. We argue that critical norm research provides a helpful prism for understanding this Coalition’s operations, and the global politics of media freedom more generally. These findings have important implications for understandings of ‘norm entrepreneurship’, ‘media imperialism’, and ‘media freedom’ itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87–100
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number2
Early online date29 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Media freedom
  • norm entrepreneurship
  • media imperialism
  • critical norm research
  • international norms
  • discourse analysis

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