International Fund for Public Interest Media: The next decisive steps forward

After over two years of consultation and development the International Fund for Public Interest Media has built critical momentum and this week passes two key milestones in its evolution.

By Nishant Lalwani and James Deane

A year into the pandemic, the need for quality public interest journalism is more apparent than ever. At the same time, we are seeing a wholesale collapse in the revenues of the media capable of providing this trustworthy information.  

The looming media extinction event has been well documented. This year we must deliver solutions at a scale and pace to meet these challenges, among them the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM).  The fund seeks to provide an effective, independent vehicle through which a broad range of new and existing donors - governments, tech companies, philanthropies, high net-worth individuals – can support public interest media around the world  especially in low- and middle-income regions with up to $1billion per year.

After over two years of consultation and development the fund has built critical momentum and this week passes two key milestones in its evolution. Firstly, we are delighted to announce the appointment of Sheetal Vyas, as the founding Executive Director. Sheetal brings extensive experience in international development, technology, innovation, and investment. She joins from the Larry Ellison Foundation and, before that, PwC Consulting, where she has established multiple funds, most notably the UK government funded Girls’ Education Challenge, which now has a budget of US$800m.   

Secondly, Craig Newmark Philanthropies has agreed to join The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Luminate in providing the fund with its initial operating capital. Registered through Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers in New York, the fund now has the runway needed to accelerate its fundraising efforts with the goal of raising $100 million in foundational funding.

So far so good – the foundations are almost in place. We now need international donors to get serious about the public interest media crisis. Attention is understandably distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds are under immense pressure and the scale of the crisis confronting independent media is only beginning to be recognised.   

The ‘infodemic’ has demonstrated to policymakers and donors as never before the devastating human and development consequences of poisonous information environments.  But acknowledgement of its other effects, such as increases in corruption, polarised and dysfunctional politics and reduced prospects for tackling other key challenges requiring strong public understanding, like climate change, are taking longer to sink in.

As we start fundraising in earnest, we will need political and diplomatic leadership from those countries and stakeholders most committed to reinvigorating democracy.   

Thankfully support, inspiration and encouragement for the fund are snowballing:

  • Maria Ressa, editor of news site Rappler in the Philippines, former Time magazine person of the year and IFPIM Advisory Group member, says: “Globally, only 0.3% of development funds go to media, and independent news groups will need help to survive the next few years of our information dystopia.  This is why there is an effort to get an International Fund for Public Interest Media established.”  
  • Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist and philanthropist, and a leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism says: “Robust independent media are a cornerstone of healthy democracies everywhere, providing trustworthy information and speaking truth to power. I’m supporting the International Fund for Public Interest Media to ensure that vital funding is provided to protect and build quality independent journalism around the world.”
  • Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of the  Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and IFPIM advisory group member says: “Newspapers alone are looking at losses that could amount to $30 billion drop in expected revenues in 2020 going by responses from our strategic sample [and there is a] huge risk of market failure.  There is an urgent need to discuss responses, whether policy or initiatives like the proposed International Fund for Public Interest Media.”   
  • The Journalism and the Pandemic project from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University has emphasized the need for “network funder initiatives that seek to foster new journalism investors with the assurance of independence and transparency – for example the International Fund for Public Interest Media.”
  • Peter Pomerantsev, one of the world’s most respected journalists, authors and academics on disinformation, convened a London School of Economics policy report, with a prominent recommendation that: “Democratic governments, tech companies and other stakeholders need to invest in public interest funds to support media that counters disinformation [such as] a major new global fund to strengthen public interest reporting around the world.”

Those who support the International Fund for Public Interest Media are ever more confident that it is needed urgently, that credible alternative strategies to support media at scale are not available, and that the democratic and development costs of failing to act escalate by the day.  

Sheetal and team are now working hard to finalise the fund’s governance, including the recruitment of its first Chair and board members, build out the infrastructure required for launch and secure its first wave of donors. If you are in a position to support the fund – whether by becoming a founding donor or by partnering with us to advocate for this critical part of the solution to the crisis facing public interest and independent media, then please do get in touch via [email protected].