Preventing media extinction – next steps from the International Fund for Public Interest Media
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. The International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM) will be marking the day by announcing its first round of funding for imperilled media in 17 low and middle income countries at a UN organised conference in Uruguay.
In the past, World Press Freedom Day was an opportunity to celebrate or commemorate issues of media freedom and especially highlight the appalling increase in attacks and killings of journalists over recent years. The challenge now is more serious still.
The prospect is looming of what some are calling a “media extinction”. It will take money, and not just political pressure or strong words, to avoid it. This is what the Fund has been established to help prevent: the wholesale disappearance of independent media and the vital democratic and societal role in plays as the business model which has sustained it simply collapses.
This time last year, in the run up to World Press Freedom Day, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, lent his backing to a new International Fund.
“Some fear that the pandemic could become a ‘media extinction event’ and we cannot afford to let this happen”, he said at an event co-organised with IFPIM. “Maintaining independent, fact-based reporting is an essential global public good, critical to building a safer, healthier and greener future – the international community can chart a path towards a new era of sustainable, public interest journalism, while helping to restore trust across societies. I urge Member States, donors and other stakeholders to support [IFPIM as] this vital new endeavour” .
Thanks to his backing, and those of other leaders such as former President of Ghana, HE John Kufuor, the Fund has since generated substantial political as well as financial support. In his opening remarks at the US Summit for Democracy in December, President Biden announced US financial support for IFPIM, saying “A free and independent media is the bedrock of democracy. It’s how publics stay informed and how governments are held accountable. Around the world, press freedom is under threat so we’re committing critical seed money to launch a new multilateral effort, the International Fund for Public Interest Media, to sustain independent media around the world support from the highest political levels.”
Governments as diverse as Taiwan, Korea, Switzerland, Sweden and France have pledged to support IFPIM financially. In a letter to the IFPIM co-chairs, Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and former CEO of the New York Times and BBC, Mark Thompson, President Macron said that he was “in favour of France providing financial support to the Fund and will also be happy to call on those other nations part of the Partnership on Information and Democracy [an initiative launched by Reporters without Borders] to support the Fund.”
IFPIM is now in advanced discussion with 15 governments as well as major technology and other corporates about investing in IFPIM.
But at this critical moment in the creation of an international fund to support media philanthropy to scale up its support too. The challenge for independent media around the world is increasingly, perhaps mainly now, a financial one. The migration of advertising to online platforms, the devastating economic hit on media revenues of the COVID pandemic and the growing political takeover of media, often by authoritarian and antidemocratic interests, is simply wiping out the suppliers of trustworthy public interest journalism and the platforms of public debate on which democratic success relies.
All this at a time when disinformation is increasingly undermining democracy, public health, the response to climate change and even economic development. And a time when war is being fought increasingly in the information as well as the military space.
IFPIM is designed as a fully independent entity capable of scaling up funding to independent media, protecting editorial independence and helping to chart long term solutions to the business model crisis that is providing an existential threat to independent, trustworthy media. An independent board, drawn heavily from the kinds of contexts IFPIM will benefit, is designed to provide added legitimacy to a philanthropic sector which is often accused of undue interference in domestic politics.
It is launching this relatively modest funding call now because it can – it has resources available which it can deploy and there are vital media institutions out there who are likely to go under without those resources. The countries it will focus on will be middle and low income countries where the financial need is often most acute and where other resources are least available.
But we still have a good way to go before we reach the minimum target of $80 million that we need to get to the critical mass necessary to properly establish a new, independent fund. It needs support from the philanthropic sector and especially from those philanthropies that have, not supported independent media before but recognise the vital role in plays in society. IFPIM is focused on generating new and additional resources for independent media and is not accepting funding that is reallocated or redirected from existing media support.
In her Nobel Peace Prize lecture, Maria Ressa, founder and head of Rappler in Philippines, called for the international community to mount a major new response to support independent media. “We need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against States which target journalists.
Then we need to address the collapse of the advertising model for journalism. This is part of the reason that I agreed to co-chair the International Fund for Public Interest Media…that will be crucial for the global south.”
Calls on philanthropic funding are intense right now but if journalism dies it is very tough to see how other responses to the many crises confronting humanity will be effective.
Further information on IFPIM including the specifics of this first call can be found on our website ifpim.org. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in supporting our fund and want to find out more.