How CSM-STAND is advancing press freedom globally

How CSM-STAND is advancing press freedom globally

Michelle Sucameli and Katie Strine


A group of people holding signs

We face a worldwide decline in the belief in the importance of a strong free press that bolsters citizens’ interests and speaks truth to power. Manipulative information runs rampant. Merely finding or accessing high-quality information has become the challenge of our times. Simultaneously, authoritarian voices continue to swell bolstered by troll farms, artificial intelligence, state, and non-state actors who use manipulative information for political gain. Citizens need the ability to manage and adapt to the shocks, disruptions, and difficult circumstances affecting their information spaces. The capacity to recognize and resist manipulative information and to participate in information spaces without undermining anyone’s dignity or well-being is more crucial now than ever before.

It is at this critical juncture that led Pact and IREX to launch Civil Society and Media-Strengthened Together and Advancing in New Directions (CSM-STAND) in 2021. With the goal of fostering independent civic forces; enhancing civic engagement; and building vibrant, resilient, and self-reliant civil society and media sectors that cultivate more pluralistic and democratic societies, CSM-STAND teams around the world are implementing IREX’s range of resilience-building approaches, to capture key learnings and address the challenges facing information ecosystems at all levels. CSM-STAND strengthens world press freedom by:

  • Leveraging AI to counter information manipulation, protect civic space, and promote information resilience;
  • Providing diverse, high-quality information to reduce hate speech and information manipulation during critical situations;
  • Delivering strategies and funding to enhance journalist safety; and
  • Employing technology to optimize media sustainability, impact, and integrity.

Helping individuals, communities, and organizations protect information integrity and build resilience, CSM-STAND teams mitigate future harm by fostering vibrant information ecosystems wherein information serves to help us make better, more inclusive decisions. But how?

Leverage AI to counter information manipulation, protect civic space, and promote information resilience

CSM-STAND recognizes the significant challenges that spam bots, deepfakes, and artificial intelligence (AI) represent globally to media and society. To leverage AI and digital spaces for good, CSM-STAND teams around the world build local capacity in AI, data analytics, and web scraping to respond today to the threats of tomorrow.

In Central and Latin America, IREX’s media teams leverage CSM-STAND’s consortium expertise in artificial intelligence through partners Omdena and Moonshot, to identify and respond to hate speech and information manipulation. Omdena, through its partnerships with local universities and organizations, created a series of AI workshops that train local students and partners in the use and deployment of web scraping tools that collect and analyze media content. The tools, two AI-based sentiment analysis mechanisms, focus on analyzing comments on general political and social issues as well as identifying sentiment within a news item related to a specific topic. These workshops strengthen local communities by building local talent and skill in the use and deployment of AI for good. Current local partners are using AI to build resilience in rural regions that improves media monitoring, counters manipulative narratives, and protects civic space.

Simultaneously, CSM-STAND consortium partner, Moonshot, trains local partners in the use of AI to conduct online landscape analyses of hate speech and information manipulation in the region. The results of these social media analyses and research strengthened local capacities to understand the techniques used to disseminate manipulative information and hate speech on social media platforms. Program partners are now using this data to inform their digital responses to these evolving threats.

Provide diverse, high-quality information to reduce hate speech and information manipulation during critical situations

IREX recognizes that ethnic tensions, manipulative information, and hate speech increase during election years and conflicts. With 54 elections around the world in 2024 and expanding global strife, diverse, sustainable, high quality, and independent media are integral to press freedom. To respond to this issue, IREX and our CSM-STAND partners foster independent media as champions of high-quality and fact-based information during these critical times to create and maintain healthy, strong, and vibrant societies.

In the Caribbean, ahead of the Dominican Republic's upcoming municipal and presidential elections, CSM-STAND teams launched, in collaboration with local partners, multiplatform voter education content. Taking a two-pronged approach to voter education that increases participation among the groups with historically low voter turnout, partners will produce high quality, fact-based civic education content for television and social media channels that targets diaspora voters living in the United States. The project will also create a young voter’s platform to increase youth participation by highlighting young leaders bolstering human rights, inclusion, and citizen security for all. CSM-STAND will enhance the capacity of the country’s media and journalist institutions to address and mitigate misinformation through specialized training and educational resources.

To foster a more pluralistic information environment in Asia, CSM-STAND teams in Sri Lanka are expanding IREX’s CitizensConnect platform, a mobile journalism platform developed under IREX’s previous program, Media Empowerment for a Democratic Sri Lanka (MEND), to train at least 150 new journalists and publish at least 250 new stories on issues of critical importance for everyday Sri Lankans. Ahead of the country’s election, the CSM-STAND team will launch Election Watch, a platform and training event series for journalists on covering elections, with a special emphasis on fact-checking and countering information manipulation.

Deliver strategies and funding to enhance journalist safety

IREX and our CSM-STAND teams have taken a flexible and adaptive approach in responding to threats to journalist safety. CSM-STAND projects include flexible and adaptive funding mechanisms to respond when there are threats to individuals and organizations that support civic engagement and democracy. These funds enable journalists to rapidly continue reporting despite the threat of detention, the loss of equipment, or even exile.

In Africa, CSM-STAND teams in South Sudan adapted the project’s funding mechanisms to include the purchasing and provision of radio equipment (generators, radio antenna, etc.) as partners’ equipment continued to deteriorate due to climate change, hostilities in the country, and age. Funds were reallocated to rapidly respond to these shifting needs. Moreover, funds were also used to rapidly protect journalists under threat. These flexible funding mechanisms enable CSM-STAND teams to respond in real time, taking partners at risk out of harm’s way getting them and their families to safety..

The use of rapid response funding is crucial to support journalists and media with swift and critical support as civic spaces shrink worldwide. For example, journalists on CSM-STAND's network can attend international human rights and press freedom advocacy events to connect with other journalists globally, receive in-depth journalism training in/for underrepresented communities, and receive support short-term survival projects for journalists and media most in need. Emergency protection funds are also used to respond to immediate threats to individuals or organizations. 

Employ technology to optimize media sustainability, impact, and integrity

Finally, it is not enough to advance media in the short term. Resilient information ecosystems maintain sustainable high-quality media that represents diverse groups. To support information integrity over time, CSM-STAND teams are contributing to long-term sustainable media sector resilience in Asia and the Caribbean through the establishment of Media Growth Labs in Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic.

IREX’s Media Growth Labs evaluate and advance partner business models enabling them to develop digital strategies that connect with their audience, expand their coverage and reach, and disseminate journalistic content that informs and educates on issues of public interest. Through the implementation of the IREX Media Growth Driver Toolkit, the projects identify specific needs and opportunities for media to improve in various areas, such as management, press, marketing, and finance. In the Dominican Republic, IREX has already started implementing the media growth lab with four of the most influential media organizations in the country.

Civil Society and Media-Strengthened Together and Advancing in New Directions (CSM-STAND), a five-year Leader with Associates Award with Pact as the holder of the leader award and recipient of the Leader Award, and IREX as co-lead and head of the media component. Launched in 2021, the CSM-STAND consortium’s goal is to foster independent civic forces, enhance civic engagement, and build vibrant, resilient, and self-reliant civil society and media sectors that cultivate more pluralistic and democratic societies.