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Supporting public interest media in low- and middle-income countries: Insights from the PRIMED programme

8. April 2024

When the ´Protecting Independent Media for Effective Development´ (PRIMED) programme was initiated in 2020,  from its onset it aimed to create and share learnings that would contribute to a more targeted and impactful global approach to supporting media outlets. To create and share learning about effective media support in different contexts, PRIMED prepared a series of learning briefs based on insights and data gathered during the implementation phase.

The programme partners facilitated a series of workshops, throughout February and March 2024 to discuss the learnings and conclusions inviting media participating in the programme, GFMD members, donors, policymakers, researchers, academics and the wider media development community to discuss the main findings and lessons learned.

Below is a summary of the programme´s key takeaways and selected reflections from over 160 participants of the workshops on the lessons PRIMED partners extracted while exploring media viability, public subsidies, coalition building and gender equality in public interest media operating in low- and middle-income countries.

Please read five PRIMED learning briefs to explore the programme’s findings and recommendations

Learning and insights from implementing media development programmes

In navigating the challenge of securing sufficient financial support for public interest media, it becomes crucial to embrace a decolonised perspective when examining the flow of new funding. This entails a thoughtful consideration of historical biases and power dynamics within funding mechanisms.

In addition to this perspective, there is a need to broaden the focus towards exploring diverse approaches to engaging audiences effectively. While the necessity of more resources is undeniable, the key lies in their strategic and systemic allocation over the long term.

The pitfalls of hastily implemented short-term initiatives are evident, often leading to counterproductive outcomes. Hence, the call emerges for donors to unite in creating pooled funds with cohesive strategies. This collaborative approach not only addresses the immediate need for support but also nurtures sustained demand from media organisations.

During the workshops, various topics were covered, including countering disinformation, supporting independent media in restrictive environments, and promoting media accountability and funding, from which the following recommendations for designing interventions to create healthier information ecosystems emerged:

  • Media support programmes should allow sufficient time to understand the context before designing their interventions.
  • A holistic business analysis approach is likely to work better than the traditional needs assessment approach.
  • Not all media organisations can be supported. Be ready to walk away from failing partnerships.
  • Local coalitions should lead the media environment reform agenda but the organisations behind those coalitions also need support.
  • Embed gender targets in the media outlets’ reform programmes.
  • Design agile programmes that can respond to changing opportunities
  • Use expertise from across the media development sector by bringing in the right skills at the right time.
  • Address the mismatch between short-term funding and long-term media ecosystem improvement.

The workshops provided insights into the complexities and challenges faced in media development programmes and highlighted the importance of collaboration and adaptation in addressing these issues.

“One thing we’ll try to work with the partners we work in is tell them to assume that things will get worse. For example to have relationships with media in the neighboring countries that could act as hosts if needed, build in emergency funding to replace laptops. Sadly, that’s just becoming the norm”,  said a workshop participant.

“We carefully picked independent media organisations, which had editors that are respected and everything, but as soon as the war broke out the ethical standards for independence and objectivity went out the window,” said a PRIMED consultant from Ethiopia.

Ideas on addressing key media development issues

Speakers discussed the significance of learning components in media development programmes and shared their challenges and solutions for improving media ecosystems in developing countries.  When asked what they would focus on if they had a magic wand, workshop participants shared some of their ideas:

  • Make tech companies accountable to communities
  • Provide media working in the public interest the money and resources
  • For media to stay connected with their audience’s needs and listen to their audience
  • Look at how the funds and the money flow – and see this through a decolonised lens
  • Apart from additional resources, architecture to be put in place to work systemically and strategically

Key takeaways on supporting media viability

Strategies used in the PRIMED  initiative to support media viability

  • Design tailor-made business development solutions: Any business viability strategy must be tailored to the specific needs of the media organisation and its individual capacities.
  • The effectiveness of the implemented approaches: Coaches and media organisation leaders should be carefully matched from the outset, not only in terms of subject expertise but also in interpersonal terms.
  • Supporting business development plans with small, targeted grants to aid implementation is effective.
  • Business development support is also important for non-traditional media outlets (such as in the case of PRIMED production companies)
  • Viability initiatives should focus on building foundations for long-term development

For more details, explore the learning brief on Media viability.

Reflections from the PRIMED media partners and workshop participants

PRIMED partnership as a flagship project

“Our partnership with PRIMED actually transformed our presence in the digital stream, had increased our capacity to generate revenue, and our engagement with the audience completely changed… I’m confidently asserting that the partnership with PRIMED and ARTS can be taken as a flagship project,” stated ARTS TV Manager

Programme managers and media partners from Ethiopia noted that the PRIMED partnership improved their media outlets’ digital presence, revenue generation, and audience engagement. ARTS TV, for example, reported a six-fold increase in income by the end of the project compared to the beginning of the programme.

Value of carefully planned coaching

Participants also emphasised the value of coaching and training, which helped them enhance their marketing and sales departments and audience engagement process. One workshop participant found the discussion on the coaching approach particularly interesting, emphasising that “the match-making of coaches and coachees is crucial and should happen with care”. While international experts were enlisted in Ethiopia, the primary preference remains to engage a local expert or someone based locally, followed by sourcing from the region as a secondary option. Potential coaches are then paired with participants, engaging in a series of discussions without obligation. If both parties reach a mutual agreement and establish a satisfactory level of trust and respect, a formal coaching agreement is then formalized.

Importance of the inputs from local media partners during the program design phase

However, when reflecting on what could have been done differently, an ARTS TV partner suggested that their input on the type of support needed could have been included before the project was designed.

Political environment influencing the media support

One of the participants also warned that investing in media development and specific media partners should not be dependent on countries’ performance on a general democratic index.

On public subsidies

The following strategies proved to be the most effective in encouraging reform-minded government and regulatory institutions to consider subsidising independent media:

  • Public subsidy is highly unlikely to work if governments drive the process. Any process of public subsidy to independent media is optimised if civil society drives the process.
  • Political will from the government is vital but arrangements for public subsidy need to assume that political will is temporary.
  • Cross-party consensus is essential. Any process to develop new systems of public subsidy should be multi-stakeholder and include, where feasible, opposition parties.
  • A minimum level of public support for the expenditure of public money is vital
  • Incentives are important; Those wishing to advocate or support public subsidy processes should explore how the government can benefit from these arrangements, including through reputational rewards.
  • Public subsidy requires a legal environment capable of implementing an independent governance mechanism.

Other strategies on public subsidies in the PRIMED programme can be found in the learning brief Public subsidy to independent media: What works (and what doesn’t)

The co-founder and editorial director of the GK.city, shared that in Ecuador, the line between public and government funds is often blurred, a reality that has been exploited by authoritarian administrations in the past. Generally, journalists refrain from accepting public subsidies out of concern that it may compromise their editorial independence or invite government intervention. Moreover, there is a notable absence of financial support or inclination from the state to provide funding for such endeavours.

On locally driven coalitions

PRIMED’s initial working definition of a media coalition was “a temporary alliance of different actors with a variety of interests and affiliations looking to achieve common goals through collective action and advocacy”.

The following factors seem to influence the ability of locally driven coalitions to emerge and thrive through externally supported media development efforts:

  • Secure buy-in from media outlets’ senior management to enhance gender equality across areas including the workplace, content creation and audience engagement.
  • Ensure a shared understanding of gender goals and potential pathways for change (and its implications) through collaborative processes with media outlets.
  • Make sure goals and targets are measurable, and that monitoring progress does not impose undue demands on media partners.
  • In case of budget cuts, offer space for experiments and adapt the programme’s success indicators accordingly.

For more details read the learning brief: Coalitions and coalition building to support media freedom

Inclusive nature or coalitions

Speakers also shared lessons from coalition-building efforts in Ethiopia, highlighting the significance of members contributing resources and expertise. They indicated that a coalition’s inclusive nature, with both large institutions and smaller journalism associations involved, fosters a sense of ownership and influence among members.

The role of the international community and partners outside the sector

Talking about the future of coalition building several speakers emphasised the need for support from the international community, both technical and financial, to ensure the coalition’s sustainability in politically volatile contexts.

“Generally, putting pressure on governments invites risk and increases exposure of coalitions and local media associations – so from a safety perspective of local actors in very sensitive situations, pressure from international organisations can sometimes be useful,” –  a workshop participant.

Participants also noted the importance of including partners outside of the media sector such as lawyers, and human rights defenders, political actors to increase the likelihood of success.

However, one participant offered feedback suggesting that in certain countries and contexts, fostering organic, internally driven change often exhibits greater sustainability and effectiveness. This approach may also help avoid accusations of foreign intervention.

Coalitions to address safety

Coalition-building efforts in Ethiopia and the MENA region aim to address safety concerns for journalists, with a focus on inclusivity and sustainability. A participant sharing experience outside of PRIMED concluded that in their case the coalition building was in response to a window of opportunity and a need that presented itself:

“We realized that many other organizations, whether donors or media development organizations are also conducting physical safety trainings to journalists and in the same region as we were, so we decided to join efforts and to join our pools financially. We were able to leverage the support and most importantly, reduce the duplication of the activities.”

On gender equality

The following recommendations aim to improve gender equality in the workplace, gender-sensitive programming and engagement with diverse audiences:

  • Recognise that lasting improvements in media ecosystems require long-term investment.
  • Support media coalitions with patience and sustained funding to navigate challenges.
  • Invest in an incremental change process that measures progress in short-and-medium-term steps taken towards long-term goals set by the coalitions themselves.

As part of the PRIMED programme, Gramer Kagoj, a newspaper in Bangladesh, has noted significant improvements in gender inclusivity within the workplace. Additionally, Gramer Kagoj has implemented equal payment and benefits for all staff regardless of gender, marking a significant milestone for a regional newspaper like theirs. To improve workplace diversity, Gramer Kagoj used a combination of gender-sensitive human resource management, appointing gender champions and creating an internship programme exclusively for women.

“You need to have an open conversation about why improving the position of women in your outlet can also improve the position of the media outlet and its resilience in general… You don’t have to have a big toolbox of things, you just need to start somewhere and try something,” noted a workshop participant.

The partners from Bangladesh have indicated that they observed their media gender editorial policy influenced other media in the region.

For other recommendations see learning brief: Gender equality in the media.

Workshop participants sharing similar challenges in their context

Talking about the experience of Somalian female journalists, the Executive Director of the Somali Media Women Association (SOMWA) shared cases of male journalists mistreating their female colleagues in the workplace:

“We had cases where women journalists had to leave their careers due to abuse in the workplace. And some have been silenced by online trolls on bullying. Even though I would like to highlight that this is shifting, changing the slowly managed perception of Somali women is still in the kitchen”.

Challenges persist, particularly in fragile contexts like Somalia, where violence and discrimination against women journalists are prevalent. The need for gender-sensitive language and support for women journalists in Africa were emphasised, alongside strategies for improving media development programming.

Caution in implementing various approaches

  • One participant emphasised the importance of exercising caution while utilizing social media monitoring tools as they have the potential to perpetuate gender stereotypes, such as the assumption that women predominantly engage with cooking-related content. It’s crucial not to confine our understanding of women’s interests solely to these stereotypes.
  • Additionally, it’s essential to recognize that many women may hesitate to comment or participate in discussions on specific topics – such as those related to politics and economics. This reluctance to engage can skew social media metrics.


(Protecting Independent Media for Effective Development)  PRIMED programme, which since 2020 has supported public interest media in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, in terms of editorial development, training and support to building resilience to political and economic pressures. It was implemented by a consortium of media support organisations with expertise in different aspects of media and development –  BBC Media Action (consortium lead), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Media Support (IMS) and Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), with further contributions from the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), and The Communication Initiative (CI). The programme sought to strengthen the media’s resilience in these three countries to political and economic pressures that threaten their long-term viability, as well as to improve information ecosystems in these diverse media environments, fostering more reliable dissemination of trusted public interest media content.

For more background about the programme, visit this page.


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