Ethics & independence

Academic research into the ethics of donor and foundation-support to journalism/media development and its consequences for the independence of beneficiaries.

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For non-academic research, reports and articles on ethics & independence go to

pageEthics & independence

Institute for Applied Informatics, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Leipzig University- TARIQ YOUSEF, ANJE SCHALF, JANOS BORST ANDREAS NIEKLER, GERHARD HEYER

This paper introduces the Press Freedom Monitor, a tool that seeks to detect reported press and media freedom violations in news articles and tweets. This tool is aimed towards the press and the media freedom organisations "to support their daily monitoring and to trigger rapid response actions."


This article argues that concerns about whether philanthropy-supported journalism may be compromising journalists’ autonomy may be missing the bigger picture. The research shows that foundation funding is inadvertently shaping the “boundaries” of international non-profit journalism, or the ways journalists understand, value, and carry out their work.

In the case of international news, it is being inadvertently directed toward outcomeoriented, explanatory journalism in a small number of niche subject areas. This research is based on 74 interviews with the most active foundations funding international non-profit news and the journalists they support. It seeks to provide an overview of the processes of funding and state of the field from both journalist and donor perspectives. (Humanitarian Journalism)

Centre for International Media Assistance - ANYA SCHIFFRIN

Based on a series of interviews and surveys, this research examines the nature of the donor-journalist relationship in media houses in the Global South. It argues that, ‘media houses in the Global South face unique circumstances. They are often operating in more restrictive environments, with fewer protections against threat and intimidation by the state or powerful individuals’. It concludes by ‘highlighting ‘the need for formal guidelines and firewalls’. (Humanitarian Journalism)

The International Journal of Press/Politics - MARTIN SCOTT, MEL BUNCE AND KATE WRIGHT

Using content analysis, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic research, this research documents the changes that occurred in IRIN’s outputs, target audience, and public service values as it transitioned from being funded by the United Nations to a private foundation. It finds that IRIN is a nonprofit news outlet, in this case, donor power operated entirely indirectly and always in concert with the dominant journalistic values. (Hummanitarian Journalism)

The International Journal of Communication Ethics - MEL BUNCE

This article looks at the foundations that fund international news and it suggests a number of ways this funding may influence journalism. This includes 1) the content of international news, because foundations support journalism on some topics and not others; 2) The objectives and norms of journalism, because many foundations fund advocacy journalism, rather than journalism for its own sake; and 3) The yardsticks that are used to measure the “success” of journalism, including its impact on the real world. The article includes a brief case study of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its philanthropic support of journalism about health and development. (Humanitarian Journalism)


Although not focussed specifically on journalism, this article does express some of the broader critiques of foundation-funded media very clearly. It highlights the concern that foundation funded journalism could adopt a framing of global development issues that, ‘serves the agenda of privatized development within a neoliberal project’. (Humanitarian Journalism)


African Journalism Studies - MARY MYERS

This article looks at the relationship between four major newspapers in Nigeria and foreign donors. The discussion centres on the attractions and drawbacks of foreign donor funding from these newspapers’ point of view and highlights points of convergence and divergence in the agendas of the newspapers and the international donors. The drawbacks of foundation funding include, the costs associated with training, the opportunity cost of building a relationship with donors and the issue of the sustainability of donorfunded initiatives. Myers concludes, however, that journalists, ‘have far more agency in this relationship than they are often given credit for’. This research is based on thirty-eight interviews, largely with Nigerian journalists.(Humanitarian Journalism)

In Who’s Reporting Africa Now?: Non-Governmental Organizations, Journalists, and Multimedia. Peter Lang - KATE WRIGHT

This chapter analyses why funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when combined with the casualisation of media production, tends to privilege particular kinds of actors in, and definitions of, international development. Specifically, it interrogates the production of a Poverty Matters blog, which involved trusted Western freelancers reworking material originally produced for a Gates-funded INGO (Internews) and selling it on to a Gatesfunded news site (The Guardian’s Global Development sub-site.). Using detailed interviews and internal memos, it highlights how foundation-funding may contribute to the unintended emergence of closed systems, which exclude more radical critiques. (Humanitarian Journalism)

Journalism Studies - DAVID CONRAD

Unusually, this article focuses on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, an intermediary organisation which distributes funds on behalf of private trusts and foundations. In it, the author reflects on his own involvement in a collaborative media project involving NGOs, commercial partners and freelance journalists, about a health crisis in East Africa. Conrad argues that the nature of these collaborative projects means that framing and ideology is contested by multiple actors, who all have their own interests and brands to consider. He shows that this makes it very difficult for journalists to adhere to longstanding journalistic norms and conventions, including highlighting the pressure which the photojournalist were under to draw attention to themes which were of importance to the funders of the Pulitzer Center, rather than issues of importance to those depicted.(Humanitarian Journalism)



This article argues that journalists at foundation-funded outlets tend to see foundations’ influence over day-to-day editorial decision-making as the main threat to their independence and integrity. As a result, they do not adequately prepare for other kinds of problems with philanthropic donors, including the tendency of some to use generous financial pledges to repair their ‘tainted’ reputations. It grounds this argument in a year-long case study of relations between IRIN and the HongKong based Jynwel Foundation, run by Jho Low, as allegations against Low escalated. Using detailed interviews with journalists, managers and board members it develops a theoretical model of what finally triggered IRIN’s decision to part company with the Jynwel Foundation, whilst also demonstrating how difficult this was because of journalists’ economic need. (Humanitarian Journalism)


Journalism Studies - HARRY BROWNE

In one of the earlier articles in this field, Harry Browne highlights some of the tensions involved in foundationfunded journalism through an analysis of ProPublica in the United States, Transitions Online in Eastern Europe and the Centre for Public Inquiry in Ireland. He concludes that ‘the increasing role of direct foundation funding for journalism might be a cause for celebration, if there was strong reason to believe that the ultimate source of subsidy was both (1) always clear to readers and (2) democratic and responsive to the wider public. However, there is at least some reason for concern as to whether these conditions can be met, or whether such support brings new worries for the credibility and viability of journalistic institutions’. (Humanitarian Journalism)

Critical Sociology - BOB FELDMAN

In this article, Bob Feldman suggests that there is evidence that left-wing news outlets that are depended on foundation funding, have moved towards a more mainstream political position. This is evidenced, he argues, by the “progressive,” reformist tone of formerly radical organizations; the gradual disappearance of challenges to the economic and political power of corporations or United States militarism and imperialism; and silence on the relationship of liberal foundations to either politics and culture in general, or to their own organizations. (Humanitarian Journalism)


For non-academic research, reports and articles on ethics and independence go to

pageEthics & independence


This resource page is a work in progress. Please get in touch to let us know what is missing using this form.

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