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Investors are supporting independent media outlets worldwide, including the digital site Addis Zeybe in Ethiopia. (© Genaye Eshetu/MDIF)

Businesses in the U.S. and Europe are helping independent news outlets around the world to continue reporting, even when revenues fall or authoritarians crack down on media.

The private sector thrives when information flows freely. It’s why the Media Development Investment Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit, has invested $316 million over 20 years in media companies in 47 countries — primarily places with histories of media oppression. Much of that investment has been donated by the private sector.

According to the Center for International Private Enterprise in Washington, when media is not free from government interference, consumers distrust legitimate business and lack reliable market information. “Free and independent media are the cornerstones of democracy and thriving market economies,” the center says.

“If you are financially independent, you will be editorially independent, and if you are editorially independent, you will have an impact on society,” said the Media Development Investment Fund’s Patrice Schneider, whose organization trains media companies to grow subscriptions, but stays out of editorial decisions. Independent news outlets “need capital with no strings attached,” Schneider said.

The nonprofit fund has supported the work of investigative news outlets, such as El Búho in Peru and Rappler in the Philippines, which is led by Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa.

Journalists working in newsroom (© Katadata/MDIF)
The Media Development Investment Fund helps media outlets, such as Katadata in Indonesia, grow their business. (© Katadata/MDIF)

As media companies grapple with dwindling revenues, attacks from some governments and the public’s reluctance to pay for journalistic content, the private sector can play a major supporting role, according to a report from the Center for International Private Enterprise and the Center for International Media Assistance.

The report cites businesspeople in Czechia who formed the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism, which in turn attracted contributions from 200 private sector donors. Despite such remarkable examples, businesses’ ability to support news organizations is often overlooked. The business community has “much to gain, as a healthy information space can strengthen markets and protect brand integrity,” the report says.

For its part, the U.S. government promotes “an open, resilient information environment globally — where deceptive messages gain less traction, where truth is elevated,” according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking at the Summit for Democracy held recently in the Republic of Korea. Blinken noted that the U.S. support spurs private-business support. Soon after the U.S. invested $20 million in independent media in developing countries, businesses and other donors gave an additional $30 million, he said.

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