By Luminate

International Fund for Public Interest Media - FAQ

In order to strengthen independent media and to protect press freedom around the world, there is an urgent need for a radical increase in support and funding for public interest media. Working in collaboration with BBC Media Action and others, we are currently exploring the feasibility of establishing an ‘International Fund for Public Interest Media’ to attract and deploy new capital to the sector. The concept is still in its early stages, with input and ideas to help shape the ideas being sought from potential donors, journalists and media development organisations. Such a fund would be a powerful vehicle through which new and existing funders - including government development agencies, philanthropists and public capital - can support the growth and sustainability of public interest media.

We’ve outlined why we think such a fund is critical and how it might work via an article in The Guardian. These ideas are based on an initial scoping study conducted by BBC Media Action. This research looked at where funding is most needed, what volume of capital would be required to make a real difference, and how other similar global funds have been structured.

If you are interested in collaborating to develop or contribute to the fund, please contact us at [email protected].  

What is the International Fund for Public Interest Media?

Our proposal is for a global fund that provides a significant increase in the resources available to support the growth and sustainability of public interest journalism. The institution’s main goal would be to promote media plurality: i.e., to provide sufficient support to ensure that there are multiple independent voices operating in each of the fund’s target countries. This protects journalists – because they are not lone targets when they speak truth to power - while allowing for a variety of editorial perspectives that represent different segments of society. It would also help tackle the perilous economic conditions for independent media by helping to establish new, successful revenue models that can be emulated. The fund would be international, with a particular focus on countries in which the need is greatest and most acute: where advertising markets are weakest, political conditions most challenging, and disinformation is having the most devastating consequences. 

Why is such a fund needed? 

Independent media plays a critical role in our democracies: it ensures we have insight into the decisions that affect our lives and holds power to account. Yet, journalism faces an existential crisis. Today, just 13 per cent of the world’s population enjoy access to a free media. The advertising model of the internet has eroded the business model of journalism, while mis- and dis- information are widespread, reducing trust in media. Meanwhile, politically motivated attacks on journalists and investigative reporters that speak the truth are growing. In 2018 alone, 99 journalists were killed and another 348 imprisoned and 60 held hostage. Impunity for crimes against journalists remains the norm, with just outcomes for only one in ten cases. And yet only 0.3 per cent of overseas development assistance (ODA)  – around £350m – goes to supporting media globally, and funders conclude that their commitments are inadequate and they do not currently have the systems or mechanisms necessary to create impact. This situation cannot continue. We need immediate action to ensure not just the survival - but the growth - of independent, public interest journalism. 

What challenges would the fund solve?

Many donors, philanthropists and civil society actors have acknowledged the troubling crisis that independent media faces, but they do not have a direct route to supporting a solution. The fund would help address this by: 

  1. Dramatically expanding the resources available to support independent public interest media in resource-poor settings
  2. Lowering the transaction costs of development agencies and other donors
  3. Increasing the legitimacy of financial support being provided to independent public interest media
  4. Radically improving the coherence, coordination and strategic consistency of such support
  5. Advancing the impact, impact assessment and learning of what works in this highly complex field.

Who will the fund support? 

The capital would support a broad range of public interest media organisations and journalists. Public interest media organisations:

  1. Are independent of vested (political, corporate or criminal) interests, 
  2. Publish reporting which informs the public, objectively and accurately, on the issues that shape their lives;
  3. Strive to be balanced and representative, in a way that allows public debate and dialogue across society;
  4. Work to hold those in power to account on behalf of the public.

Public interest media implies a focus on working in the interests of all people across all of society, not just those who have the power or money to pay for or influence social narratives. Examples of possible beneficiaries are Nexo, in Brazil, and amaBhungane in South Africa, both of which are small organisations but have a strong track record of influential and informative reporting.

Who will be participate in this fund?

The fund aims to be a broad collaboration drawing capital from a wide range of sources including, but not limited to, government development agencies, philanthropic donors, and social media platforms. This vehicle would also provide an opportunity for existing funders of independent media to pool resources, and be a cost-effective mechanism for new donors seeking to fund independent media. Potential donors, advisors and leading media experts are being invited to contribute ideas and input on how best to structure such a fund to support public interest journalism at this critical time. Please contact us at [email protected] if you would like to do so. 

How will this fund be structured?

We believe the fund will be best structured as an independent legal entity. The legitimacy, effectiveness and fiduciary integrity of this entity would be highly dependent on its governance structure. This governance structure will:

  • Guarantee complete editorial independence of any organisation supported by and through the Fund and independence of the decision-making over its strategic priorities; 
  • Ensure strong fiduciary accountability, scrutiny and competence sufficient to assure its donors to have full confidence that their funding was well spent and effectively accounted for; 
  • Command credibility with the journalistic and broader media support community especially among the media and broader civil society in the countries which the Fund is designed to benefit; 
  • Minimise the legitimacy of any accusation that the Fund is acting as an agent of any international interest or agency; 
  • Adequately represent key stakeholders, specifically the media and journalistic community, those credible to beneficiaries from recipient countries, the principal financial supporters of the Fund and other relevant expertise. 

To ensure that the fund is responsive to local sociopolitical factors, we believe there should be regional offices (e.g., in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America) that have significant autonomy, even while their overarching mandate is unified. 

How much capital will the fund seek to raise? 

To be successful, such a fund would demand a substantial increase in the resources currently put into to public interest media and should not simply reorganise or centralise existing resources. Right now, international funding for journalism and media development totals approximately $600 million per year according to the National Endowment for Democracy Center for International Media Assistance. It is estimated that $1 billion per year in new funding is the right target for the International Fund for Public Interest Media. That sounds like a lot, but it is only a fraction of the $10bn spent by development donors on supporting governance in low and middle-income countries. It’s also only small proportion of the estimated $6 billion of losses in annual advertising revenue that the global news media sector is currently suffering. An additional $1bn per year – which is roughly double the current mission-led funding going into media, or the equivalent of 0.7% of total Overseas Development Assistance - would be a meaningful, and achievable, budget to see independent journalism through this turbulent time. 

Why should donors contribute?

Government development agencies, philanthropic donors and social media platforms in particular, should provide the capital for this fund. For democratic governments, weak media ecosystems around the world threaten the balance of our societies, especially in and around elections. For philanthropic donors whose mission it is to solve the hardest problems in the world, the need to invest in independent journalism as a public good has never been more urgent. And for the social media platforms that have done a huge amount of damage to the business model of journalism: now is the time to support the rebuilding of the industry through their corporate social responsibility efforts. 

Why and how is Luminate involved?

Over the last decade, our team has worked to defend a vibrant, free press that uncovers the truth and holds power to account by supporting courageous investigative journalism, innovative models that battle disinformation, and new business models for news. During that time however, we’ve seen rising threats to press freedom across the world. Calling for an Independent Fund for Public Interest Media fits squarely with Luminate’s independent media strategy.  It is an important lever with which to tackle the mounting threats to media freedom and attacks on journalists. Our role is to work with key players to evaluate the feasibility of such a fund, and explore how it may offer a powerful, multi-faceted response to many of the current challenges to media freedom. We have funded a feasibility study (conducted by BBC Media Action) to assess the fund’s viability and scope its potential operations.  We are happy to share that study with interested parties, especially donors who would like to work with us on how the fund should be structured and operated.  

When will the Fund launch?

Following further consultation with those who want to contribute to the fund and the development of a detailed plan for the fund’s governance, scope and investment strategy, we propose that the fund be launched in 2020.