Donor Support to Media Development: Defining the Current Landscape

CIMA Launches Media Development Support Donor Survey

Project by Tara Susman-Peña and Tom Lansner

CIMA is launching a Media Development Support Donor Survey to identify donor priorities and trends and to help paint a broad picture of the support landscape. CIMA will publish a series of summaries of donor support profiles, and conclude with a report synthesizing the findings. The project is co-sponsored by the Open Society Foundations.

We have begun reaching out to donors. While we don’t know everyone, we would like to get as inclusive a picture as possible. If you are from a donor organization and would like to complete the survey, please contact us at

Media development: CIMA’s definition…and beyond

Currently, CIMA is refocusing its work, and refreshing and refining its description of media development.

With the donor survey, our objective is to learn who is spending how much on what programs and projects where and for what reasons.

These appear to be simple questions. Yet the particulars of funding for media development are notoriously difficult to uncover. Key reasons have been described in earlier CIMA studies:

  • Media development interventions are rarely broken out with dedicated budget lines and are usually integrated into support to multiple sectors (from governance to health to crisis response to peace-building and more)
  • Media interventions may be embedded in these other initiatives; intimate knowledge of each project may be necessary to discern the media components
  • Some projects that appear to be media development may actually be public relations, public diplomacy, or technology provision unrelated to improving the free flow of information

Another difficulty in measuring this work is the multiple ways that various actors define media development; the definition is clearly evolving, making it difficult to track the evolution of funding over time. At a recent CIMA event, “Taking Stock: Top Media Development Practitioners on Where We Are Now and Where We Are Going,” two participants’ perspectives provide clear examples of this diversity. David Yang of USAID noted that his organization funds media development at approximately $120 million per year, which breaks down into $40 million for core programs (in which media development is “intrinsic”) and $80 million for programs that use media as a tool (in which media is “instrumental” to other development initiatives). This second “instrumental” category includes activities that some media development stakeholders exclude from their definition of media development, such as health messaging campaigns intended to change behavior. It also covers large areas where media development and development communications overlap; it is hard to definitively label the funding as media development.

From another perspective, Internews’ Jeanne Bourgault explained that her organization, among the largest and oldest of the non-profit media development implementers, is shifting its strategy from its traditional approach of strengthening the media sector. “We are moving away from using the words ‘media development,’” she said. “We have embraced an internal strategy of growing healthy information ecosystems.”

While we begin from CIMA’s updated definition of media development, we are open to a broad perspective, driven by how key players’ current perceptions and work. The CIMA event revealed a striking portrait of the current media development space. Panelists observed that the media development field is fast changing and hard to capture simply or cleanly. Phrases such as: “no longer an orderly universe,” “constant motion,” “donor retrenchment,” “information overload,” “questioning assumptions” and even “chaos” gave a striking tone to the conversation.

In this dynamic context, we believe it is essential to attempt to track how much donors are spending, where, with whom, and on what type of activities.

Following the money

The survey will go out to key media development donors – multilaterals, bilaterals, and private foundations. Questions focus on what activities are funded, changes and trends in annual funding, and approaches to media development (including intervention design, regional focus, and impact measurement). A copy of the donor survey is available here. The survey data will be enhanced, where possible, by conversations with key donor contacts.

What do recipients think?

This project focuses on donor perspectives. It is not intended to represent the point of view of the media development funding recipients: local media, civil society organizations, international NGOs, and others. To provide a measure of balance, we will introduce some short case studies and observations from media development support recipients. Research shows that recipients’ perspectives, priorities, and goals may not align with donors’ expectations. Over decades of media development, recipients have repeatedly expressed frustrations that they must often tailor their activities to suit donor priorities (see, for example, these six country case studies from the Media Map Project). With increasing international focus on aid effectiveness and country driven development since the inception of the Millennium Development Goals, it is important to determine whether or not these principles have taken root in the field. Thus, to a limited extent, we will inquire as to whether donor approaches align with needs identified by recipients.

What do we know now?

This initiative builds on six reports on donor funding that CIMA has undertaken since 2009. Our understanding of this project’s inherent limitations is a core learning from these reports. Among their other key findings are:

Broad trends in media development funding

  • Most donor approaches are overall fragmented, not learning-based, absent institutional grounding, not driven by theories of change, and lack long-term strategies and commitments
  • The 2008 economic downturn coupled with the simultaneous explosion in digital technologies has fueled increasing and ongoing disruption, diversification, and transformation in media and the media development field
  • Investment approaches have evolved from core institutional funding for media and free expression organizations to project-based strategies

Key players

  • Spending by the U.S. Government—the largest funder of media development worldwide by a wide margin—on media and freedom of information declined by more than 22% between 2008-2012
  • S. media development funding follows U.S. foreign policy interests; during 2008-2011, there was a surge in spending in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan
  • The European Commission is the next largest funder after the U.S., but a clear picture of its media activities overall has to date proven impossible to attain
  • China is emerging as a major player in African media, particularly in communications infrastructure. However, the principal media outlet that China funds in Africa, state-owned CCTV, is not aligned with the same value system as that of other major donors, especially regarding reporting on the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese commercial interests in AFrica.

The changing landscape of media and information

  • A significant shift in investment to digital media and ICTs overall
  • The rise of foundations founded by digital media magnates, whose funding priorities do not necessarily reflect a traditional “media-as-watchdog” paradigm
  • Increased funding for free expression activities in the years leading up to 2011, a proliferation of potential recipient organizations competing for this money, and more funding channeled to Internet freedom activities

Moving forward

Funding is one of CIMA’s four areas of focus. This initiative will establish a dynamic resource on media development funding that is easily updated and expanded. We will publish brief reports profiling the work of about 20 donors between April and September 2015. These pieces will provide snapshots of media development donors’ activities, perspectives, and perceived challenges. Profiles will be published as we receive donors’ responses and compile our findings. We will open the series with the co-sponsor of this project, the Open Society Foundations.

CIMA will also create a database of donor information open to all. It will be updated regularly, and set up as a Wiki, so stakeholders can contribute new or additional information. Last, a summary report synthesizing our findings will be released in late 2015 or early 2016.

Collaborate with us

This initiative will yield the broadest and most useful assessment of the media development funding landscape with the collaboration of a broad range of donors and experts in the field. We would love to receive suggestions of organizations and people to contact, of data sources and other materials, and to hear your experiences and perspectives on media development funding. Contact to participate.

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