Donor funding to international media is even lower than we thought – we need to increase it rapidly to protect and sustain independent journalism




Nishant Lalwani and James Deane





Nishant Lalwani and James Deane


The International Fund for Public Interest Media was originally proposed almost six years ago to solve two main problems.  

The first was to mobilise money in the context of the looming threat of media extinction as the business model for independent media collapsed.  The challenge was most acute in low- and middle-income countries.  

The second was to provide a solution to donors – those with money – who wanted to support independent media but did not have the capacity, legitimacy or risk appetite to do so at the scale they felt was warranted.  

A new report just published from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC),  demonstrates just how sizeable those problems are.

The report is the most detailed mapping study of official international donor support to media and broader issues of “information integrity” ever undertaken.  It makes for stark reading.  

Previous estimates suggested that current official international development support  to media stood at just 0.3% of ODA, a level which most within the system acknowledged as shockingly low, given the importance of journalism to our societies.  The latest mapping study shows that support has been and remains even lower: it is an astonishing 0.19% of ODA in 2022.  

It shows that most “OECD DAC members are aware of the importance of the integrity of information environments to achieve their development and foreign policy objectives, and of the central role played by public interest media”.  

But even as autocratisation has risen, disinformation has surged and the financial threats confronting independent media have become existential, they have with just a few exceptions proved unable to increase their support for the sector.  “ODA for media has remained stagnant”, concludes the report.

It gets worse. Even a smaller proportion of that support actually reaches independent media. The report points in particular that: “just 0.05% of total ODA over 2016-2022) is directly channelled to media organisations in partner countries, such as journalists, media outlets and civil society organisations.” Many media organisations have long made the case for a substantial increase in direct financial support to media, over longer funding cycles. The good news is that DAC donors now acknowledge this. The new Principles on Support to Media and the Information Environment approved by the OECD DAC in March 2024 call, among other measures, for “strengthen(ing) local leadership and ownership” including by “ensuring a more significant share of ODA for media development reaches local and regional actors directly, fostering their longevity, resilience and viability” and by “increasing the availability and accessibility of direct, flexible, and reliable support, including core funding and longer-term, multi-year funding.”

The International Fund was not designed to replace existing media support strategies such as training, capacity building, and technical support.  Those efforts remain as critical as ever.  The International Fund was designed to find a way of radically scaling up financial support, ensure that support directly reached independent media organisations most dedicated to the public interest and to find long term structural solutions to the business model challenge.  We had heard from many donors that they found this areas of development assistance complex, political, and difficult. Yet, unless more financing was found, independent media simply would be unable to survive.

The mapping study paints a bleak picture but there are signs that the problem is now being taken seriously.  The very fact that this study was requested by OECD DAC donors is an acknowledgement of the importance of the issue (the study was financially supported by the International Fund but is published entirely independent of it).  And many donors are already significantly increasing their support to this area including through the International Fund.  Other reports from the US NED Center for International Media Assistance and the Transparency, Accountability and Inclusion Initiative paint a similar picture.

Six years after it was originally suggested in a blog, the International Fund has the backing of UN Secretary General Guterres, the support of several heads of state including President Akufo-Addo of Ghana, President Biden of the US and President Macron of France and an eminent international board.  Almost 20 donors have already joined the growing multilateral coalition backing the Fund and it has already raised close to $60 million and disbursed $10m already. The International Fund has directly financially supported 33 media organisations in 16 countries, including Confidencial, who cover important public interest issues whilst in exile from Nicaragua, and Netgazeti in Georgia, who are recognized for their steadfast commitment to professionalism and editorial independence. Later this year, the International Fund will launch its replenishment campaign, to significantly scale up resources as it aims to meet the urgent demand for  financing to sustain public interest journalism 

This OECD report provides a landmark analysis of the current status of media support and other areas of information integrity but the challenges it highlights are long standing and they can in their essence be summarised by a single quote from the report.  “Overall, there is a mismatch between rhetoric and resource allocation”.  The time has come to change that. 

Nishant Lalwani is the CEO and co-founder of the International Fund for Public Interest Media

James Deane is the co-founder and senior adviser to the International Fund for Public Interest Media

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