Giving Compass' Take:

• Research from Media Impact Funders highlights the trends and gaps in global media philanthropy to help donors rethink and prioritize their giving. 

• Is this the right time for you to begin funding media, or change your strategy? Where can you work to effectively fills the gaps outlined here? 

• Learn about ways to address journalists' security

The global media funding ecosystem has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years, largely in response to tectonic shifts in how people around the world consume, produce and share information. Revolutions in information and communication technologies have enabled the rise of new platforms that are competing with legacy media and threatening the business models of established media institutions. Around the globe, philanthropy plays a crucial role in supporting a variety of diverse media-related initiatives, including strengthening media institutions, improving democratic processes, raising awareness and advocacy through public service radio campaigns addressing health issues, ensuring equitable access to communication technologies, and protecting freedom of expression.

While the funding landscape for U.S.-based philanthropies investing in media is well documented, thanks to reporting requirements and tools such as Foundation Maps for Media Funding, the picture for international philanthropy is far less clear.

It is imperative that the philanthropic community collectively seek to better understand how the media funding landscape is being shaped by a variety of actors and stakeholders around the world. Improving the mechanisms for capturing and analyzing global media funding trends is not only relevant for foundations focused on traditional media issues such as freedom of expression and journalism support, but also for donors working on healthcare, economic security, environmental issues, and human rights. As the reach of media extends, it impacts all issues and areas of philanthropic giving.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Media Impact Funders has been researching worldwide trends, challenges and opportunities for media funding. The research in this report draws on a variety of sources: data from the media data map through 2015, results from a survey of leading organizations engaged in funding media-related projects around the world, analyses of existing literature and reports, and insights offered by experts across a range of media funding issues.

Both funding and making media are now dangerous in new ways: Foundations, publishers, editors and journalists across the world are facing not just familiar forms of repression and censorship, but new threats from breaches to digital privacy and a notably uncivil online culture. Funders need to work more systematically to educate and protect themselves and their grantees.

Power dynamics are skewed in favor of American funders: The data emphasizes U.S.- based funders, who appear to be setting the agenda for foundation support of media worldwide, raising questions about power dynamics between these funders and local foundations and grantees. Improving worldwide data collection and access will help all funders understand how non-local funders’ priorities match, complement or possibly undermine funders and NGOs in local communities. In addition, supporting local media efforts, business model development and listening to grantees and implementation organizations are key to adjusting the balance of power. As our survey indicates, funders and those on the ground are not always concerned about the same things, and better understanding of local needs is essential for a stronger media ecosystem and improved outcomes for all the issues funders care about.

Foundations can have an outsized influence on a country’s media system: This power can be productive or disruptive depending on the context. On the one hand, funders can support convenings, monitoring, regional partnerships and even media distribution from outside of countries where anti-democratic leaders repress the media. On the other, foundations can create perverse incentives through supporting initiatives that don’t match needs on the ground, or through short-term funding that leaves local organizations stranded.

The moment is ripe for organizing media funders in creative and effective new ways: There are areas for research and sharing of best practices that are relevant in many countries and bear further examination. These include the role that social media plays in public discourse, new business models for news, impact evaluation for public interest media investments, and the need to make a stronger case for media as a legitimate area for philanthropic support. These topics could serve as organizing principles for enlarging and engaging a larger network of global media funders. There are also new ways for funders to work together, in multi-stakeholder coalitions, and even in partnership with grantees. The funding environment differs widely from country to country, so it’s important not to seek one-size-fits-all solutions.

Funders need to see the bigger picture: Funders need to understand and support media and media ecosystems in order to advance their work and improve society. New funding approaches and sources highlight the need for gathering and analyzing data about global media funding, and understanding how it fits into the overall global funding picture.

Better data is needed: Our research and literature review highlighted the significant barriers the field faces in truly understanding the reach and scope of global media philanthropy. Developing reliable frameworks of philanthropic data collection will be imperative to understanding how funders are working around the world, as well as the trends, challenges and opportunities. It also highlighted the need for U.S.- and European- based funders to more thoughtfully report grant information, to ensure improved coding accuracy, as well as more nuance around purpose and populations served.