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National Journalism Funds – Policy Paper

Traditional journalism paradigms and market dynamics are proving inadequate in addressing the prevalent market failures within the media sector.

There are a number of countries where funders could – with the right strategies, support, partnerships and safeguards – undertake interventions to bolster and strengthen the independence of the journalism ecosystem. As part of this, with the right levels of financial support, independence from political, industrial or other interests, a commitment to the public interest above all, and an outlook that is genuinely strategic and structural, such ‘national funds for journalism’ (NFJs) could be part of a breakthrough solution for countries or regions worldwide looking to develop sustainable homegrown independent media.

National Funds for Journalism (NFJs) are, according to GFMD’s working definition, a particular instrument for providing strategic, long-term financial support to independent public interest media and media sectors and ecosystems.

Examples of long-standing funds, such as the one in Argentina, offer compelling evidence that economic support initiatives for the sector are essential and effective tools for achieving objectives like increased diversity and pluralism in the media landscape and enhanced public participation in the media. And communities worldwide are increasingly actively seeking innovative solutions. Recently, Sierra Leone launched the National Fund for Public Interest Media, with support from both national and international stakeholders.


GFMD has commissioned two new complementary briefings, designed to inform efforts to advocate for, design and build such NFJs around the world:

– a policy paper looking at the worldwide state of the field of national funds for journalism, authored by Sameer Padania and Francesca Silvani of Macroscope. Access the PDF version here.

– a policy brief focused on funds that governments set up to support journalism within their own countries, authored by Anya Schiffrin and Brigitte Alfter. Access the PDF version here.


Finally, GFDM IMPACT has compiled a comprehensive and growing spreadsheet with examples of a variety of government-supported and national journalism funds featuring examples and literature on more than 40 national journalism funds in this ever-evolving field.

These publications and the spreadsheet of funds illustrate that across various regions, diverse stakeholders are exploring or actively advocating for various types of NFJs as a crucial element in utilising both public and private funds to address the well-recognised financial crisis confronting independent public interest media.

 

National Funds for Journalism – source of long-term support for independent media

While there have been examples of NFJs in the past, there are a range of important factors driving the current wave of interest, including:

  • Growing international recognition that journalism and media represent a powerful and strategic sector that contributes to democracy, economy and community – and that, as a public good, should be subsidised by those that benefit from it, including in part by public funding
  • Increasing clarity that past paradigms of media support and media markets are not sufficient to counteract or fix widespread market failure, and that broader-based interventions are needed
  • Stronger demands across the Global South for more resources and more decision-making powers to be put directly in Global South hands, alongside mounting pressure on Global North actors to go through meaningful processes of decolonisation
  • The need to create stable, long-term funding structures that can unlock funding and other kinds of financing at scale from governments, ODA, philanthropies, investors and tech companies, while clearly demonstrating that these funding sources have no influence over how funds are spent or decisions are made

Consultations outlined some areas for concrete follow-up from funders, intermediaries and other actors could help, including:

  • Further exchange or community of practice:
    GFMD’s research and consultations have shown both that there are widespread examples of funds that conform to most or all of the working definition of NFJs, and that there is wider interest internationally in exploring funds with a similar systemic purpose. This seems to be the case not only at the national level, but at the regional and sub-national levels too. It would seem to make sense to encourage further exchange between practitioners on this, perhaps through a community of practice.
  • Research and data on current and emerging examples:
    There is still little evidence and learning about the factors that impact on NFJs’ success – and as such, not only do NFJs not have a fixed set of characteristics, but it is also not possible or desirable to develop a single authoritative template for NFJs. As a number of such funds are currently under active discussion and development, funders and supporters of NFJs should ensure that more systematic learning is being conducted – including funders who are specifically focused on systems change strategies and processes.
  • NFJs as distinct from media development:
    NFJs have a wide range of objectives, which both include and overlap with objectives of the media development sector – but they should not be conflated with media development programmes or projects, and should not be expected to provide evidence of the efficacy of media development strategies, such as a focus on media viability.

Next steps

GFMD IMPACT and our partners will present the findings and recommendations of our consultation process at a number of fora in order to further inform processes and consultations underway globally.

GFMD IMPACT hopes that this process will:

  1. Inform the creation of planned national journalism funds
  2. Support the further development of or advocacy for existing funds.
  3. Encourage those considering national journalism funds – as part of a broader national policy portfolio towards providing strategic, long-term financial support to independent public interest media and media sectors and ecosystems – to consider the pros and cons of the various models and mechanisms that are outlined in the paper and which would be best suited to their context.

More resources

  • The literature review and case studies used to inform that consultation are available on the GFMD IMPACT resource centre.
  • National Journalism Funds were one of the policy options recommended in a GFMD IMPACT White Paper — Long-term financial support for Ukrainian media and journalists – crafted jointly with Ukrainian media organisations and support entities and at their request, appeals to donors, policymakers, and other stakeholders in advocating for long-term financial support for Ukrainian media.

How can you contribute?

CASE STUDIES OF FUNDS 

The Netherlands and its Funds: A Long Tradition 

By Brigitte Alfter, additional research by Tamara Hoffman

Note: Brigitte Alfter is also the director of Arena for Journalism in Europe, and in that context has contributed to a seminar with the SvdJ. 

This study focuses on the work of Dutch Journalism Fund (formerly Dutch Press Fund), known in Dutch as the Stimuleringsfonds voor de Journalistiek (SvdJ), founded in 1974, and supported by the government of the Netherlands. The SvdJ was initially founded as an organisation to strengthen struggling media, and in 1988 was officially established as a fund under Dutch media law. In doing so, it transitioned from assisting newspapers in temporary difficulties to the broader remit of strengthening the journalistic infrastructure. The SvdJ now encourages “the quality, diversity, and independence of journalism through funding programs, sharing knowledge and doing research”. According to Steffan Konings, an SvdJ project leader: “We mostly work with teams, our assignment and goal is to strengthen the infrastructure of investigative journalism.” 6

The SvdJ is one of two organisations working with government funding to strengthen journalism. While the SvdJ provides support for journalism projects, the Fonds Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten (FBJP; The Dutch Fund for In-depth Journalism), set up in 1990 by an independent group of journalists, focuses on funding individual journalists, photographers, authors, and young journalists.

The media landscape in the Netherlands is characterised by “a strong public service broadcaster and highly concentrated newspaper ownership” (Meijer & Kormelink, 2022). As in other countries, journalism in the Netherlands is struggling to remain relevant, especially as the country witnesses an increase in polarization, with several attacks targeting journalists and news outlets (Kasem, Waes, Wannet, & Adviseurs, 2015). Local and regional journalism are considered endangered.

In some municipalities, journalism coverage is weak, with smaller communities rarely receiving news of any social importance to their local environment (Beunders, Horst, & Kleuver, 2015). “The role that journalism used to play in maintaining the balance between government and citizen has largely been lost here,” according to the SvdJ. Moreover, at the same time as local journalism faced increasing financial challenges, local municipalities were being burdened with further responsibilities. Consequently, a large portion of funding is now specifically directed towards local journalism projects.

The SvdJ calls for proposals for projects that meet the criteria outlined above. Funds may be provided to cover (for example) subsidies, training, and seminars. The calls for proposals are a means of ensuring editorial independence. According to Steffan Konings, “We would never say
‘you need to do this project’; they come to us.” Furthermore, applicants must subscribe to editorial statutes (in the form of professional and ethical guidelines) to be eligible for funding. Advisory boards make funding decisions based on the project proposals and organisational structure, in line with transparent criteria. Konings emphasises that these decisions are never made in response to the topic of a project.

The SvdJ itself has a clear vision on such issues as transparent management, and taking measures to avoid creating ‘donor darlings’. The organisation is aware that some prospective grantees possess superior application-writing skills, and even that some organisations have subsidy consultants, and so permits application by interview. Koning repeatedly emphasises the need to be transparent about the application process. “Everything has to be applicable to everyone,” says Konings, citing transparency about processes and about the judges as examples. Furthermore, the SvdJ is subject to freedom-of-information laws, and advisory boards and judges are changed regularly.

The programmes supporting investigative journalism – on both national and local levels – started as a three-year pilot, followed by a “light evaluation” (as Konings puts it), aimed at building knowledge on which indicators to apply. Government support was unchanged, and was prolonged after the three years had passed.

Tanzania Media Foundation 

By Saumya Gulati

Tanzania has seen a rapid decline in media freedom and increasing precarity for journalists in the last four years. In 2022, Tanzania was ranked 123 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index and deemed “partly free” by Freedom House. Outlets have experienced targeting and restriction by government actors and face issues around the financial viability of traditional forms of media (Spurk & Katunzi, 2019). These restrictions include reportedly deliberate efforts by the government to reduce revenue by pulling their advertising from private outlets, where it previously accounted for 60 per cent of funding (Note: Saumya Gulati interviewed Mr Eric Kalunga of the Switzerland Development Corporation in 2022).

Despite this curtailment of freedom of expression, Tanzania retains a robust media ecosystem, with multiple newspaper, television, radio, magazine, and online outlets. Donors focus on trying to keep media alive, given the intensely difficult political climate.8 According to the 2019 African Media Barometer, civil society organisations are “well-organized and active” and especially critical in countering attacks on media freedom (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2019).

The Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF) is one of the foremost civil society organisations conducting this work. Formerly known as the Tanzania Media Fund, it was initially launched as a multi-donor project in 2008, administered by the Dutch NGO Hivos and funded by the Swiss Agency
for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the British Department for International Development (DfiD), Irish Aid, and the Embassy of Denmark. In 2015, it spun off as its own legal incorporated independent entity with a new name and strategic plan.

Funding Regulation 

TMF’s focus is to advance the role of the media as a watchdog, agenda-setter, and gatekeeper. Its mission is to promote a vibrant, independent, responsible, and diversified media sector in Tanzania through media research, nurturing, and support. According to the Fund’s website, current funders/ partners are DW Akademie, the German Agency for International Cooperation, KFW Development Bank, Media Futures East Africa, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, and Aga Khan University. TMF has pivoted from grant-making as its core business, and now focuses on capacity building of media organisations, this explicitly includes grants to journalism production. TMF’s proposed budget from 2020 to 2023 is US$5.7 million (Tanzania Media Foundation, 2020). Its main outcome is “strengthening internal capacities of media institutions and individual journalists with the assumption that if they are strong internally, they will be successful in navigating the external environment.” (Note: Saumya Gulati interviewed Dastan Kamanzi Raphael, Executive Director of the Tanzania Media Foundation, in 2022)

Between 2021 and 2022, TMF worked with 25 media outlets, of which ten are currently undergoing assessment. Five regional radio stations (Sweet FM, Kagera community radio, Kings FM, Radio Zoe FM, and Smile FM) were awarded grants specifically for improving internal operations.

Granting Process 

TMF’s new approach includes three strategies:

  1. Research, and assessments of individual journalists and media institutions grounded in DW Akademie’s framework of five key areas of media viability: politics, economics, community, technology, and content.
  2. Interventions that result from scoping conducted by TMF. TMF offers financial support and coaching on rectifying gaps they have identified. This support includes providing consultants commissioned to assist organisations in establishing systems such as accounting, and enhancing internal structures.
  3. Grants to individual journalists and media houses to conduct public-interest and investigative journalism, while providing them with support for ideation, innovation, and pitching.

Administration/Management

TMF currently is made up of three staff members and receives additional support from consultants:

  • Dastan Kamanzi Raphael – Executive Director
  • Alfred Ganzo – Programme Officer
  • Amani Kija – Administrator

TMF’s Board of Directors is vested with the responsibility for oversight, general supervision, and direction of the organisation and is currently made up of four of the founding members and five additional appointees.

Evaluation 

In 2017, TMF’s then-executive director left the organisation to join the country’s ruling party CCM. This led to the tarnishing of TMF’s image as politically neutral, and there was questioning of management of funds. Eric Kalunga, a programme officer at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), explained, “we ran into some issues with management of funds, so there was a lot of back and forth and I think that’s where we had to then stop – around 2018, 2019.” Kalunga revealed that after conducting an audit, SDC did not find clear misappropriation of funds, but could not provide 100% assurance that it did not occur – in particular, SDC could not be assured that sub-grantees of TMF had used the funds for the purposes for which they had been allotted. This was corroborated by the current executive director, Dastan Kamanzi Raphael, who said, “what we came to understand was that the people were applying for grants while having some other projects, different from what they presented to TMF. You give them money and they implemented different projects and in one to two years we found them in the same spot from before. And so, we had to think of a different approach, giving a different type of support instead of just giving money.” Kalunga explained that in Tanzania many organisations lack the ability to meet donor requirements for reporting and other compulsory regulations, such as financial audits and budgets. This has led SDC to move to a mandate model, where they design full programs and have media outlets apply to implement specific components.

Interviewed:

  • Eric Kalunga, Programme Officer, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
  • Dastan Kamanzi Raphael, Executive Director, Tanzania Media Foundation

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