BLOG: CEO announcement

Published:

23.08.22

Author:

Nishant Lalwani

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Published:

23.08.22

Author:

Nishant Lalwani

Share:

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
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For democracy to thrive, independent media must thrive

In June this year, two days before President Rodrigo Duterte stepped down from the highest office in the Philippines, the Securities and Exchange commission in Manilla ordered the shutdown of Rappler. Founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa in 2012, Rappler is one of the few genuinely independent news organisations in the country. The government has long felt threatened by the accountability that Rappler brings to public discourse, and this was the latest in a series of desperate moves to punish Ressa and her team. 

You may already know this about Rappler – the legal attacks have been covered extensively in the international press – but there are a few things that may surprise you about Ressa’s company. Rappler is amongst the most innovative media outlets anywhere in the world and has been for many years. In 2016, before the US election had taken place and ‘disinformation’ became a common word, Rappler was publishing stories on the “weaponization of the internet”, imploring regulators to act. In 2020, Rappler launched a cutting edge digital platform, Lighthouse, that is “built for community” and re-orients the value proposition of journalism firmly towards audiences, encouraging engagement and action. #FactsFirstPH was an unprecedented and impactful collaborative movement launched by Rappler to promote truth in the public sphere ahead of the 2022 Philippine elections. In summary: Rappler is innovating – editorially, financially and technically – despite the enormous legal and political attacks it faces. 

Rappler’s resilience is inspiring; it is also instructive. It shows how, with the right resources, news organisations can find new pathways to building trust, building revenue and building a robust future for the fourth estate. And yet, independent journalism is chronically underfunded, particularly in the Philippines and in other resource-poor countries. Online advertising revenues have been declining for the last two decades and Covid-19 was devastating for journalism: US$30bn was lost to newspaper advertising in 2020 alone. Media investors and philanthropists are few and far between, especially outside the US. And many governments do very little to bridge the market failure for public interest media: just 0.3% of all Overseas Development Assistance goes towards supporting the media, which is astonishingly low given how important information ecosystems are for democracy and development.

It’s for these reasons that, more than three years ago, I wrote a piece in The Guardian, calling for a new fund that could radically increase the amount of resources for public interest media in low and middle income countries. Thanks to the phenomenal work of my co-founder, James Deane, and the exceptional founding team, this fund – the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM) – is now a reality. In December 2021, President Biden, President Macron, Prime Minster Ardern and other political leaders gave their support for IFPIM, including financial commitments that would provide “critical seed money” for the Fund. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also urged “member States, donors and other stakeholders to support this vital new endeavor”. With this backing, as well as that of many governments and philanthropies, IFPIM is now a truly multilateral vehicle, which makes it the first global fund in history dedicated to public interest media. 

Today I can announce that I will be joining IFPIM as CEO, a position which I am truly honoured to hold. I start this role with great humility about the profound challenges facing public interest media in many of the countries where IFPIM will work. I acknowledge the ambitious fundraising goals we have as a Fund in order to be able to tackle these challenges. However, I’m confident that IFPIM’s genuinely independent approach, with the unique legitimacy carried through a diversity of government and private donors, is the right way for us to begin working on these critical issues. 

My primarily goal will be to support innovation in the media – including the public and private ways it is financed – in order to work towards a new paradigm of sustainable, independent journalism within the next decade. I will ensure that IFPIM encourages diversity, equity and inclusion in news organisations we fund. I will urge IFPIM’s grantees to reach and engage a greater number of young people. I will strive to make IFPIM a learning organisation that is accountable to our partners and grantees, with responsive, collaborative and transparent funding processes. And, perhaps most importantly of all, you have my word that IFPIM will never try and influence any editorial decision making in any of our grantees, or allow our donors to do so. 

As I begin this role, I ask for your partnership. Rappler’s Maria Ressa and the former CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson, have joined IFPIM as our Board Co-Chairs. They believe that if we can help independent media thrive, we can help democracy thrive. Please join them, and me, in ensuring we can fulfil IFPIM’s important mission.

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