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National Journalism Funds

27. July 2023

National Journalism Funds

The discussion paper produced by GFMD’s International Media Policy and Advisory Centre (GFMD IMPACT) looks at the emergence around the world of ‘national funds for journalism’ (NFJs) as a particular instrument for providing strategic, long-term financial support to independent public interest media and media sectors and ecosystems.

It builds on recent research and consultations undertaken by GFMD IMPACT which show that, in a wide range of places, different actors are exploring or actively advocating for NFJs as a key pillar in the use of public and private funds to respond to the widely-acknowledged financial crisis faced by independent public interest media.

National Fund for Journalism (NFJ) is a dedicated structure that is designed with a strategic sectoral purpose to provide long-term funding to an independent journalism ecosystem in a particular country, region or place. It can take different forms, but in essence is designed to redress shortcomings, barriers or imbalances in a particular media market, or to incentivise, catalyse or accelerate new entrants or transformative processes in that market.

Read and comment on the full discussion paper here. 

Deadline for suggestions: September 1, 2023

GFDM IMPACT is gathering examples and literature on national journalism funds in this evolving spreadsheet: “Examples of National Journalism Funds”

Please help us keep it up to date.

While there have been examples of NFJs in the past, there is 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 supported 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
  • Stronger demands across the Global South for more resources and more decision-making powers to be put directly in Global South hands, alongside pressure on Global North actors to go through processes of decolonisation
  • The need to create stable, long-term funding structures that can unlock funding at scale from governments, ODA, philanthropies and tech companies, while clearly demonstrating funding sources have no influence over how funds are spent

Few actors outside of governments, bilateral donors, Big Tech and international financial institutions have the scale of resources or influence necessary to help independent media ecosystems overcome this crisis. Calls for governments in particular to do more to support and sustain media financially have accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, at the height of which some governments acknowledged the public benefit provided by media by designating them an ‘essential service’, and journalists as ‘key workers’.

Despite the need to unlock large-scale funding, many in the independent media sector are understandably wary of – or even opposed to – government-backed efforts to intervene in the journalism sector, however well-intentioned. There are contexts in which it may be plausible to establish NFJs that can act independently and in the public interest, but in many countries, governments are not good faith actors with regard to funding for independent media. For example, there is ample evidence of widespread abuse of government advertising budgets, the capture of regulatory bodies, the weaponisation of agencies like tax authorities, imposition of burdensome government and licensing fees, and myriad other repressive, regressive or even contradictory policies and practices aimed at weakening the media. In such contexts, a government-linked NFJ would likely be seen as politically compromised.

Does this mean, however, that NFJs should only be considered in the handful of rights-respecting places where there is no or little risk of political interference? The indications from GFMD’s research and consultations show that, despite these risks, stakeholders in a wide variety of countries and contexts are actively exploring how such funds could work, often as part of holistic plans for media reform or multi-faceted attempts to introduce more progressive media policies.

While not a Practice Guide, the discussion paper seeks to distil and crystallise some of these key questions, principles and approaches that stakeholders – media, funders, civil society, and government – may need to consider as they contemplate if, how and with whom to develop such a fund.

Below are abbreviated summaries of some of the questions that the discussion paper covers:

What are National Funds for Journalism and how do they work?

The most salient characteristics of NFJs emerging from desk research and consultations are that such funds are, ideally:

  • Strategic – with a vision and plan for the public interest media ecosystem
  • Sectoral – designed to support the public interest media ecosystem as a sector
  • Sovereign – locally led, -governed, -staffed and -controlled, and representative of a cross-section of the sector and society.
  • Independent – strategically, financially, operationally and editorially independent
  • Long-term – set up to operate on a long-term (>10 years) or even permanent basis, and not according to project, programme or electoral cycles.

What kinds of objectives do NFJs have? 

NFJs are likely to have a public interest perspective and need to express their objectives clearly and transparently and explain how they plan to measure the public value (including social, economic, community or commercial value) and the public benefit they enable.

Funds and initiatives noted in this research and consultation process exhibit many commonalities in their objectives. The list below is not exhaustive or definitive but attempts to give a flavour of the range of objectives that such initiatives express.

Through their activities, NFJs may aim to:

  • ensure that the public has access to accurate and reliable information
  • support, stimulate and scale independent journalism and hold those in power accountable at all levels of society
  • counteract and reduce fragmentation in funding, counterproductive incentives, and unhealthy competition in domestic funding ecosystems
  • provide risk capital for diverse future-oriented approaches to doing or supporting independent journalism
  • promote equity of opportunities for historically excluded, -marginalised or -oppressed groups, communities or national regions with little or no access to media ownership or entrepreneurship
  • increase public trust by practising transparency of funding sources, governance and management structures, eligibility and selection criteria, financial awards, and assessment and evaluation
  • support the independent public interest media sector to develop or strengthen its collective voice and knowledge, and advance media freedom
  • strengthen the independent public interest sector as an economic sector
  • benefit diverse parts of the independent media ecosystem, creating spillover effects

What is driving increased interest in NFJs as a strategic solution? 

Factors driving interest in NFJs include:

  • Recognition of journalism and media’s crucial role in democracy, economy, and community, with independent and public interest media needing strategic support.
  • Awareness of media market failures in delivering journalism in the public interest, necessitating national-level interventions and policy reforms.
  • Understanding that high-quality independent journalism contributes to economic development, investment, and crisis prevention.
  • Frustration with the fragmented and insufficient international funding system, calling for dedicated, independent, and strategically managed structures at the local level.
  • Emphasis on systems-change approaches and actors to address widespread market failure.
  • Global South’s demand for sovereignty over media financing and more resources directly in their hands, aligning with decolonization efforts.
  • The need for equitable, transparent, and accountable funding from tech/platform companies to support independent media and civil society.

What systemic challenges can NFJs address?

Each media market around the world will face particular systemic challenges – such as information inequality – that a National Fund can be a key part of seeking to address (alongside media policy reform, fiscal or financial measures, investment incentives, or other forms of intervention). In some places, this can be as part of a formal wider national plan, and in others, it may be less formally coordinated.

Read the full paper for 9 examples. 

Which approaches are used to establish NFJs? 

There is no single or best practice approach and no single stakeholder that is best suited to developing the concept for or leading the establishment of a National Fund for Journalism. A range of different scenarios and approaches can be observed showing different pathways through which a National Fund for Journalism could be established, depending on who might be the most appropriate stakeholder in a particular country or context.

Read the full paper for descriptions and examples of six different approaches. 

What practical steps and lessons learned about good practice can be observed from existing or proposed NFJs? 

The concept of an NJF may be initiated – as examples raised in GFMD’s research and consultations show – by a government department, an independent inquiry, industry bodies, bilateral or philanthropic funders, civil society groups, private citizens, or another party, but across all these types of fund, there are certain steps and approaches that they have in common and that others considering establishing a fund could also learn from. These include:

  • Feasibility or scoping study: A report based on stakeholder input that defines the fund’s purpose and outlines pathways towards its establishment.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Listening to diverse perspectives from different sectors, including potential advocates and adversaries.
  • Objective-setting: Customising fund objectives to address specific challenges in the media market and public interest.
  • Transparent, representative governance: Establishing clear governance structures for transparency and accountability.
  • Sandbox period: Potentially sandboxing funds for a defined time and purpose to test their impact and functioning.
  • Subsidiarity: Decentralising funding and decision-making to benefit intended beneficiaries.
  • Diverse funding mechanisms: Including various sources like tech company settlements, philanthropies, corporations, citizen crowdfunding, and more.
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the fund: Ensuring ED&I standards are met and integrated in all aspects of the fund.

The paper also outlines a number of considerations for the media development community.

Read and comment on the full discussion paper here. 

Deadline for suggestions: September 1, 2023

GFDM IMPACT is gathering examples and literature on national journalism funds in this evolving spreadsheet: “Examples of National Journalism Funds”. 

Please help us keep it up to date.


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