Does independence in journalism have a future?

Five panelists from media development and crowd-funding sectors debated about ‘Does independence in journalism have a future?’ and answered various questions on the need to support investigative journalism.

Photo credit: Francesco Ascanio Pepe

With the booming expansion of digital media, various facets of journalism including investigative reporting, beat reporting and focus on quality aspects of storytelling have faced the brunt with low funding and lack of investor support. To address these pressing concerns, four panelists moderated by Caroline Giraud, Programme and policy manager for Global Forum for Media Development, spoke at International Journalism Festival’s event titled ‘Does independence in journalism have a future’.

The panelists included Jeremy Druker, executive director of Transitions , Kate Ferguson, director of Protection ApproachesSameer Padania, CEO of Macroscope, and Gabriela Manuli, Global Investigative Journalism network (GIJN) deputy director.

The event was also attended by Ayman Mhanna, director, Global Forum for media development (GFMD), who live-tweeted the event and moderated the Q&A.

The key theme of the panel revolved around censorship of press, problems faced by independent journalists in developing nations and how crowd funding can be used to solve problems faced by traditional press. It also debated about usage of funding models that have been established by community media for investigation journalism.


Jeremy Druker focused on crowd-funding models and newer promotional strategies that journalists need to use in order keep their independence: “my organization has been a not-for-profit from the beginning and we have been independently functioning in 30 countries. But, talking about independence in journalism comes back to finance and training journalists.”

Druker also mentioned the problems faced by local journalism and the severe backlash that investigative journalism ensnares: “the money for independent journalism exists but it’s hardly local and there is a market failure.”

Crowd-founding is an option to consider: Press Starta crowd-funding platform for journalists launched by Transitions, aims to focus on long-term support for quality independent journalism than one-off support for individual articles.

Violent extremism and the media

“Capacity of media to unknit society through violence and to also play a positive role is very strong,” said Kate Ferguson while addressing the ground realities faced by journalists while reporting in countries where press freedom is under threat.

Ferguson emphasized the need to nurture and support grass root voices from regions facing violent and extremist attacks. “Funding has been diverted from media assistance programmes and independent journalism to strategic communications without evidence of effectiveness,” she added.

Photo credit: Francesco Ascanio Pepe

Collaborative partnerships

Gabriela Manuli, deputy director of Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) with over 128 member organizations, said: “What is most important about maintaining independence and conducting investigative journalism is the integrity of your editor to investigate and convey your findings to the public.”

“There were never good old times. Investigative journalism has always struggled but we have good news as well. The recent Panama Papers are an example of what good investigative and colloborative journalism can achieve,” Manuli said.

Speaking about threats faced by independent and investigative journalists, Manuli added: “there is a new paradigm in investigative journalism as we embark on colloborative action. But problems persist as there is widespread backlash and funding keeps shrinking.”

Manuli further explained why independent journalists need to understand the primal importance of making money: “journalists must be trained to understand how finance works and diversify their model and funding sources. They should consult, act as fixers or find alternate sources.”

Changing times

Sameer Padania, CEO of Macroscope, spoke in detail about how changing technology is challenging journalism and how journalists are facing the ‘destination versus distribution’ dilemma.“In the past, the focus was on editorial independence but today, the choices are more complex and constantly shifting,” Padania said.

Ayman Mhanna, director of GFMD, advised: “we need to break silence and bring together journalists and their caretakers, policy makers and media, technology journalists and developers of artificial intelligence. This will enable us to bring about media literacy and focus on journalism’s role of providing quality public service.”