How is sustainability defined and measured?

“The million dollar question we're all trying to figure out.- Patricia Torres-Burd, MDIF

“..somewhat of a Holy Grail in the media development and journalism support field.” Mira Milosevic, GFMD

Participants outlined that there are multiple methodologies and tools for examining media pluralism, media viability, and media sustainability from the international development perspective.

In the literature overview, Mira Milosevic highlighted that media viability is assessed on three levels by international donors and stakeholders.

These are:

  • the overall economic environment at the macro level,

  • the structure of media markets and potential revenue sources at mezzo level,

  • and the micro level of each organisation.

However, this has to be viewed through the lens of the broader political, economical, social and technological spheres where the media organisation operates. All of these factors have led to there being no clarity in terms of exactly what media sustainability and viability entails.

“Most practitioners believe that viability goes beyond financial viability, and that it includes professional standards, for instance, in editorial, independence and pluralism.” Mira Milosevic, GFMD

You can download PPT presentation, an overview of the literature and apporaches on media sustanability and viability here:

Some participants highlighted how media development has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable society.

“Media development has the potential to enable an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable society.” Lars Tallert, Fojo Media Institute

Fondation Hirondelle’s approach towards media sustainability is one defining it as a social responsibility, where media provide a service to people, provide reliable information and information is regarded as a fundamental right.

Jason Lambert from Internews, spoke about working to scale up the approach towards sustainability and noted that the sustainability aspect of media development programmes is often an ancillary requirement which needs to be prioritised much more. Others also agreed that media viability and sustainability as a concept needs to be integrated in all aspects of media development.

Speaking on behalf of MDIF, Patricia Torres-Burd emphasised the importance of a really good understanding of the market, and the population audience habits, before interventions are designed because the market can help determine what the realistic expectations from a media organisation are.

Roula Michael from Maharat Foundation explained that based on research and experience of her organisation, viability shouldn’t only be looked at from the business model perspective, as there are many other challenges in a context such as Lebanon that should be looked at. Other aspects, such as the ability of the media to break taboos, include marginalised communities, provide space for women, refugees, and provide different narratives should also be considered as important.

Summarising the discussion, rapporteur Mary Mayers spoke about two sides of the same coin and two big problems for the media: on one side sustainability, and on the other side is press freedom.

Mary shared her experience of consulting at Radio Tambo, a radio station in northern Uganda where while talking about revenue diversification the director said, "Actually, all that doesn't matter. Because we don't know whether tomorrow the police are just going to come in and kick our doors down, or put a padlock on the transmitter, and we will be off air."

See more about various approaches towards media sustainability/viability in our literature review here.

Last updated