Chapter 05

Paying for news: Funding models for news in Southeast Asia

Ross Settles
September 2021

Strapped newsroom budgets have forced Asian media houses to look elsewhere for funding. What does the industry need to thrive again?

Cover Image
SPDuchamp
Paying for news: Funding models for news in Southeast Asia

Key Insights

  1. Funding of news media in Southeast Asia – whether through grants or corporate partnerships – is small relative to other parts of the world, and comes almost entirely from North America and Europe.

  2. Where funding reaches Southeast Asian media, it tends to go to large institutional outlets and is mostly spent on training and capacity building focused on specific topics or publishing techniques.

  3. Lack of support for new media startups and for producing original reporting in local newsrooms is a major obstacle to entrepreneurial journalism activity in the region.

Introduction

During the past decade, the space for news media in Southeast Asia has steadily contracted. Countries with traditionally open media environments have increasingly experienced efforts to control or silence news media outlets. The rapid adoption of digital technologies throughout Southeast Asia and the expansion of global online platforms have undermined the traditional economic models that supported news media. Now the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated both trends to make the economic viability of news media in Southeast Asia a critical issue for journalists, newsrooms and news audiences throughout the region.

The higher risks and changing media market have contributed to an increasingly fragile financial situation for both large news media institutions and smaller startups and investigative outlets. News media of all sizes must increasingly look for new revenue sources to support newsrooms and media operations. This chapter examines types of non-commercial funding, specifically partnerships and grants, to evaluate the current state of these funding sources for news media outlets in the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus the two observers, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.

K8
Across the region, major news outlets’ traditional advertising-led business models have begun to fail.

A difficult market situation made worse

Over the last five years, news media in Southeast Asia have experienced a steady tightening by local governments in their freedom to report the news. The Philippines stands out, with the Duterte government persecuting online news publisher Rappler for tax evasion, as well as not renewing the broadcast licence of ABN-CBS, the country’s largest broadcast network. Myanmar and Thailand have both pursued local journalists, imposing heavy fines and jail terms for criminal libel, among other legal actions to restrict news reporting. 1 Across Southeast Asia, legal and personal risks facing news reporters and news publishers remain significant. In many markets, the risks have become appreciably higher.

Papua New Guinea
47th 1
Timor-Leste
71st 7
Indonesia
113rd 17
Malaysia
119th 27
Thailand
137th 3
Philippines
138th 2
Myanmar
140th 1
Cambodia
144th 
Brunei
154th 2
Singapore
160th 2
Laos
172nd 
Vietnam
175th 
2021 World Press Freedom Index rankings and rank changes for Southeast Asian countries.

Since 2016, only two of the Southeast Asian countries under consideration here were consistently ranked in the top 100 markets for press freedom: Papua New Guinea, ranked at 47; and Timor-Leste, ranked at 71 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. 2 Two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, saw a positive change in their rankings: Malaysia rose 27 places to rank 119th due to press liberalisation after the 2018 general election, and Indonesia rose 17 places to rank 113th. The remaining eight countries in Southeast Asia consistently fell in the bottom quarter of countries evaluated by Reporters Without Borders from 2016 to 2021.

While institutional and personal risks have increased, journalistic business models have been rapidly deteriorating. In the five years before the outbreak of Covid-19, many of Southeast Asia’s major mainstream media outlets had reduced staff sizes and merged or closed print publications. According to a pre-Covid-19 report from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), newspaper publishing revenue in Asia was expected to shrink 6% by 2020. 3 As a result, staff reductions and restructurings at the region’s major publishers became regular news items.

Beginning with the Jakarta Globe‘s move to online-only publication in December 2015, major publishers have continued to restructure to accommodate the new realities of online media. Bangkok’s The Nation moved online-only in mid-2019 after 48 years of publishing. Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has steadily scaled back on media operations, merging myPaper and The New Paper in 2016. SPH’s May 2021 decision to spin off all media holdings into a new non-profit company recognises the difficulty of pursuing a traditional commercial revenue model for news. Across the region, major news outlets’ traditional advertising-led business models have begun to fail.

Traditional business downsizing has created a pool of eager editorial and business talent interested in addressing these issues by creating new media outlets with new content and news, and with new business models. There have been major investments in media in Indonesia, including business news and information site Katadata, and millennial and Gen Z news outlet IDN Times. Smaller startups have also emerged, addressing new audiences and content approaches like Malaysia’s Orangkata.my, the Philippines Puma Podcasts, or the multilingual regional site New Naratif. Entrepreneurs in any stage of development are often resource constrained. But facing the business and legal uncertainties of Southeast Asia, the need for funding support is only magnified.

75 %
In 2020, MDIF respondents in Myanmar reported a decline of 75% in advertising revenue.

Covid-19 has exacerbated the already precarious financial situation facing both the region’s traditional news outlets and newer online news startups. In a July 2020 report by Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) about independent news media in Myanmar, respondents saw advertising revenue decline by 75%. 4 Among Myanmar media with print publications, all have either had to reduce publication frequency or halt publication entirely.

As financial pressures from the pandemic grow, regional governments have used the public health crisis as an excuse to tighten restrictions on news reporting even further. In Cambodia, police have arrested dozens for spreading ‘fake’ news about the Covid-19 situation. Myanmar blocked more than 200 websites for allegedly spreading disinformation about the pandemic.

With the space for news media to operate becoming increasingly smaller and news media’s finances increasingly perilous, media around the region are turning to external funding sources. They want help to expand their reporting about critical news items, but also to help fund accelerated transitions to digital business models and to weather the current crisis in media viability in Southeast Asia.

Media finance: A funding continuum

News media have a variety of funding options to consider that could support their missions and mitigate the risks posed by changing business and legal environments. These range from receiving investments to receiving donations.

For the funder, each option includes an implicit or explicit exchange – the give and the get. Across all of the funding options, cash is the most important of the ‘gives’.

Funding options for news media companies

Description

Investments require an understanding that the cash received will be used to maintain and grow the value of the media company and that the investor will see a return on the cash invested.

Earned revenue includes any regular, recurring profitable commercial exchange between the media and either institutions (for example advertising) or individuals (for example subscriptions).

Corporate partnerships describe the funds or services provided by a corporation to support news reporting or operations. Google’s News Initiative and Facebook’s Journalism Project are the primary examples.

Grants include cash or services (such as training or conference attendance) provided by a not-for-profit organisation to support the media in a particular set of actions or behaviors usually documented in a grant agreement.

Major Donations, similar to grants in size, are usually provided by wealthy individuals or their ‘family foundations’. Donation requirements are more general and may lack any detailed documentation.

Individual donations​/​membership​/​crowdfunding creates a pool of funds from a large group of supporters, each contributing a small amount. Individual donations may be limited in use based on the donation or crowdfunding program.

The give

Cash investment

Board networking and support

Profits from the sale of products and services

Cash or services in kind to support media production or business operations

Cash or services in kind to support media production or business operations

Cash

Cash

The get

Partial ownership of the company

Positive returns on the sale of ownership

Clients and subscribers receive the benefit of content access or services

Content / programming for the platform

Desired grant impact on the media’s audience

Support for ongoing operations

Potentially influence

Support for ongoing operations

Potentially influence

During the last five years, news media in Southeast Asia have relied on all of these approaches to fund operations, support specific reporting efforts and expand audience reach. Earned revenue dominates funding for larger institutional media outlets across the region, and represents the majority of news funding. Entrepreneurial news startups with strong audience and revenue models have successfully raised venture capital, though precise amounts are not reported. Smaller, focused investigative news outlets continue to rely predominantly on international grants and major donors. Revenue from memberships and subscriptions is small. With the exception of Malaysiakini‘s early adoption of a subscription model in 2002, online subscription and membership programs have only become more widely implemented since 2019.

This chapter focuses specifically on corporate partnerships and grants as funding sources for Southeast Asian news media. Where possible, it seeks to capture the size of grants and the geographical spread of funding in Southeast Asia, though this information is not uniformly available.

Corporate partnerships and grant funding to the region can be sorted into four categories:

  • Journalism and reporting funding for content creation and reporting in all formats.
  • Training and capacity-building funding for training efforts, workshops, and other capacity building and networking events.
  • Business operations funding for product development, marketing, sales and other business management functions.
  • Other funding for projects that overlap multiple areas and may touch on other aspects of journalism and media behavior such as media literacy, media research and education.

Corporate partnerships: Facebook and Google support in Southeast Asia

The relationship between quality news media and the digital platforms that distribute their reporting is a symbiotic one. News media need the digital platforms, principally Google for the web and Facebook for social media, to reach broad audiences. But the platforms also see news media content as an important offering in the searching and sharing ecosystems they have constructed. As Madhav Chinnappa, Google’s Director of News Ecosystem Development, stated in an interview about Google’s news partnership efforts in Europe, ‘Google is an ecosystem company. The way that it makes money is through the ecosystems it operates in. So it thrives when the ecosystem thrives.’ 5

Both companies have made significant investments in partnering with media companies. For many media outlets, these partnerships are similar to grant support. But, unlike the philanthropic and aid organisations that dominate grant funding, Google and Facebook’s efforts are conducted as part of normal business operations. The funds deployed are also accounted for as normal business expenses, not as non-taxable grants, which is why they are distinguished here separately as corporate partnerships.

Facebook Journalism Project

Facebook’s organised media partnership efforts began in 2010 and focused first on traditional media in the United States and then extended to the United Kingdom and eventually to Europe. In early 2017, Facebook’s Media Partnerships team launched the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP) to coordinate external partnerships with news media and to collaborate internally with product development teams working on news-related products and features. 6 Since launching, FJP has focused its efforts on three areas – journalism grants, capacity building on Facebook content and business tools, and anti-disinformation efforts.

In each of these efforts, Facebook prefers to work with independent intermediaries with either special expertise (training and capacity building) or regional knowledge (journalism grants and anti-disinformation efforts).

Shortly after the launch of FJP, Facebook began developing efforts in Asia to understand the role of disinformation in the region. The first effort was to convene the Asia Pacific News Literacy Group in Sydney in June 2017. Out of this early work, Facebook invested in several research projects, including a best practices documentation effort by Singapore’s Splice Newsroom. Later in 2018, Facebook also began conducting journalism training sessions focused on journalist safety and the use of Facebook tools for journalism. 7

Beginning in 2019, FJP committed to spend USD 300 million on ‘news programs, partnerships, and content’ over the three years 2019 to 2021. 8 The commitment includes spending to expand FJP’s Accelerator Program globally. During 2019 and early 2020, Facebook conducted two accelerator programs in Southeast Asia, one focused on social video and one on reader revenue.

Both capacity-building efforts included extensive training programs and individual grants to support implementing new techniques or practices learned from the training. The total grant amount available for the Video Accelerator is reportedly USD 300,000 shared among 13 accelerator participants. 9 Reader revenue grant amounts were not disclosed. While regional media support during the first two years of the USD 300 million commitment is not fully detailed, the identifiable portion committed to Southeast Asian media appears small and has been mostly invested in training and capacity building for major media houses in the region.

FJP Southeast Asian Accelerator Participants, 2019–2020

VideoReader Revenue
IndonesiaKompass TV
TVOne
Tempo
MalaysiaAstro Awani
TV3
New Straits Times
MalaysiaKini
Sin Chew
PhilippinesABN-CBS
News5
GMA News
Inquirer
SingaporeSPH
MediaCorp
SPH
ThailandKhaosod
Thairath
Thai PBS
Bangkok Post
Other East AsianSCMP (HK)SCMP (HK)
HK Cable TV (HK)
Apple Daily (HK)
Commonwealth (TW)

In early 2020, with global media struggling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Facebook launched an additional USD 100 million effort to support local media. The commitment includes USD 25 million in cash support and USD 75 million in Facebook in-house marketing support. 10 The details of the USD 75 million have not been disclosed or reported elsewhere. Facebook has allocated USD 2 million for an emergency relief fund for Asia, including Australia. 11 Programs funded under the USD 2 million relief fund include:

Facebook Covid-19 Emergency Programs

Partner

Splice Newsroom

The Walkley Foundation

WAN-IFRA

In-house

In-house

Region

Southeast Asia

Australia

Southeast Asia

Global

Southeast Asia

Type

Grants

Grants

Capacity building

Capacity building

Capacity building

Est. Amount

USD 300,000

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Description

Emergency support funding for 56 independent media outlets

Emergency support funding for 17 community, non-metro news organisations

Digital transformation workshop for 11 major mainstream media

Individual participants in a global virtual training program

Virtual version of Reader Revenue workshop

While Facebook’s support for the news media is still relatively new, the focus in Southeast Asia has been on major media outlets and capacity building. Only one effort, the Splice Lights On Fund, has distributed grants to smaller, independent media outlets. The stated amount spent in Southeast Asia is small, especially compared to program spending in North America or Europe.

Google News Initiative

Google has worked with news organisations, especially in North America and Europe, for over a decade. Many of the early efforts focused on Google’s internal product development work to support news reporting and business models. Beginning early in the last decade, Google developed a series of funding programs in Europe, largely in response to legal pressure from European Union and national lawmakers over copyright usage.

These programs supported major media outlets with capacity building using Google revenue and digital publishing tools and provided funding for innovations in ‘daring storytelling’. 12 In 2015 Google expanded these partnership opportunities with the launch of a EUR 150 million Digital News Initiative (DNI) for European publishers. The goal of DNI was to provide low-risk funding for digital news experimentation and innovation. Google also launched NewsLab, their global hub, to ‘connect journalists with programs, data and resources to aid in their reporting’. 13

In early 2018, Google announced the centralisation of these programs under the Google News Initiative (GNI). The announcement from Google’s Chief Business Officer, Philipp Schindler, stated GNI would focus on three objectives: 14

  • Elevate and strengthen quality journalism.
  • Evolve business models to drive sustainable growth.
  • Empower news organisations through technological innovation.

GNI’s Asian operations, based in Singapore, support both funding programs for news media innovation and capacity-building programs for news reporters and media managers. Since the launch, GNI has conducted two rounds of the ‘Asia Pacific Innovation Challenge’, which funds selected proposals with a particular focus on media revenue and distribution.

In 2018 the Innovation Challenge focused on diversifying news media revenue streams and provided USD 3.2 million in funding to 23 projects. In 2019, the Innovation Challenge focused on increasing reader engagement and rewarded 18 projects USD 2.3 million in funding. GNI’s Innovation Challenge in Asia is open to proposals from across East, Southeast and South Asia and includes both support for large institutional media companies and for new media startups.

Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge Awards, 2019–2020 15

Southeast Asia Region

Awarded 2019Awarded 2020
Indonesia

Tempo.co

Asumsi.co

Kumparan
Malaysia

Malaysiakini

R.age fromThe Star

Media Prima
MyanmarFrontier Myanmar
SingaporeSingapore Press HoldingsTechinAsia

Other East Asia

Awarded 2019Awarded 2020
Hong KongHong Kong Free Press

Matters Lab Ltd

South China Morning Post

Japan

Iwate Nippon

The Asahi Shimbun Group

Nippon Television Network Corp
Mongolia

Zasgiyn Gasriin Medee Daily

National News Corp LLC

South Korea

Maeil Business Newspaper

dotface.kr

Dong A Ilbo

The Busan Daily

The Maeil Daily

The Gangwon Daily

TaiwanCommonWealth Magazine

CommonWealth Magazine

The News Lens

Other South Asia

Awarded 2019Awarded 2020
India

Turkbox

Gaon Connection

IE Online Media Services

The Morning Context

The News Minute

NepalThe Record
PakistanJang Media GroupThe Current
Sri LankaRoar Media

Australia / New Zealand

Awarded 2019Awarded 2020
Australia / New Zealand

Crikey

Community Broadcasting Assoc. of Australia

Women’s Agenda

Guardian Australia

Mamamia

Australia Community Media

The Conversation Media Group

In addition to the Innovation Challenge, GNI announced a special fund to support local news organisations struggling with the impact of the coronavirus. Specific funding amounts for Southeast Asia were not announced, but ranges were suggested ‘from the low thousands of dollars for small hyper-local newsrooms to low tens of thousands for larger newsrooms, with variations per region’. 16

Based on GNI’s first impact report for the years from 2018 to 2020, Google reportedly invested USD 35 million in support for Asia-Pacific news organisations, about 20% of GNI’s total spending for the period. Included in this amount is spending from the pandemic emergency fund of about USD 6.4 million, 16% of the total USD 39.5 million reported.

Google News Initiative Media Support 2018–2020 (USD millions) 17

USD millions015304560
North America
2000+ orgs
2 countries
5011
Europe
1870+ orgs
36 countries
4311
Asia Pacific
1000+ orgs
32 countries
296
Latin America
1190+ orgs
18 countries
1610
Africa​/​Middle East
160+ orgs
30 countries
31
  • Regular support spending
  • Emergency Fund

In addition to the regional spending detailed in the GNI impact report, Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org also spent USD 10 million in global media literacy efforts; however, a specific break-down of spending in Asia is not available.

Google’s support for news media in Southeast Asia is difficult to determine in detail, given the company’s broad regional definition, which includes all of East, South, Southeast Asia, as well as Pacific, countries and regions. The company’s efforts include online training and capacity-building initiatives that are managed globally, specific innovation project support and other philanthropic efforts to improve media literacy.

In general, news media support from Google focuses on specific programmes around using Google tools or projects to develop reader engagement or revenue improvement. Efforts appear to prioritise innovation over media size. Small media startups are as likely to receive support as are major regional media organisations. Google’s Southeast Asian efforts, while still small compared to Google’s spending in its major revenue markets of North America and Europe, are growing in both size and complexity.

Corporate partnerships from both Facebook and Google provide an important source of funding and training for news media outlets in Southeast Asia. Both companies manage their efforts through their normal business outreach efforts. Consequently, their efforts focus on training and capacity building using their own tools and services, and on projects that lead to more sustainable revenue and audience outcomes for the participating media. Neither company invests specifically in reporting. Funding for new publishing innovations has also been available from both companies. But competition for the awards is intense and the amounts can be small.

Grants: Support with purpose

News media in Southeast Asia, especially small news startups and investigative news outlets, rely substantially on grant funding from foundations and philanthropies with either a direct interest in journalism or, more commonly, an interest in journalistic coverage of a particular issue.

As of early 2021, there is no consolidated dataset of news media–related grant funding with a focus on Southeast Asia. As a result, this section is based on analysis of the US-based Media Impact Funders (MIF) database, 18 which tracks self-reported grants from major private US and European foundations. The self-reported data is augmented with additional research using non-profit tax filings, foundation public reports and public announcements of news media–related grants in the region. Given that grant details, especially grant amounts and grant recipients, were unevenly reported, funding estimates are offered in aggregate for the period 2016–2018.

The MIF database provides a global look at spending from private foundations, including the specific grant amount and the location of the grant recipient. The grant information is broad, including grants for five areas of media: Media Access and Policy, including media literacy and freedom of expression; Telecommunications Infrastructure; Media Applications and Tools; Journalism, News and Information; and Media Content and Platforms.

In order to focus on assistance to news media specifically, this chapter looks only at grants categorised as ‘Journalism, News and Information’ and ‘Media Content and Platforms’. Because of the diversity of ‘media content’ funded in the last category, this estimate is still quite broad and not specific to journalism and news media operations.

The MIF database records a total of USD 7.5 billion in grant spending on all categories for the years 2016–2018. ‘Media Content and Platforms’ represented the largest portion of total grant value at between 50% and 65% of total annual spending. The category’s share of global grant spending has declined annually, though absolute grant value remained the same in 2017 and 2018 at approximately USD 1.4 billion. ‘Journalism, News and Information’ received a much smaller portion of the total grant value but had grown by 30% annually to just under USD 450 million in 2018.

Media Impact Funders, Aggregate Grant Value by Category 19

USD billions00.511.522.53
2016
12%65%23%
2017
13%58%29%
2018
16%50%34%
  • Journalism, news and information
  • Media content and platforms
  • Other

Grants to Southeast Asian recipients recorded in the MIF database accounted for just under USD 6 million for the period, approximately 0.01% of the total. Most of the grants in the dataset went to North American and European recipients.

Looking at country-specific spending, Indonesia received the largest portion of grant funding, followed by Myanmar and Thailand. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) promoting investigative journalism and media freedom were the leading funding recipients in the Philippines and Cambodia. A single large project received the majority of funding recorded in Papua New Guinea. Vietnam and Laos, both with government-controlled media sectors, received no grants. Singapore received only one grant, awarded to a local consulting firm to perform media development work outside of Southeast Asia. The Singapore grant is excluded below.

Media Impact Funders, Aggregate Grant Value in Southeast Asia, 2016 to 2018 20

USD thousands05001,0001,5002,0002,5003,000
Indonesia
2,756
Thailand
518421
Myanmar
393505
Cambodia
194176
Philippines
211
Papua New Guinea
225
Malaysia
  • Media content and platforms
  • Journalism, news and information

The MIF dataset includes grants for both media outlets and for civil society organisations (CSOs) using media and communications to pursue specific civil society goals. Between 2016 and 2018, the MIF database records only 162 projects funded in the ‘Journalism, News and Information’ and ‘Media Content and Platforms’ categories. Of these, approximately half (83 projects) were specifically to fund news media or journalism. The remaining projects were for media advocacy or media capacity building for local CSOs. For example, the data includes a grant to Indonesia’s Gaya Warna Lentera Indonesia Network to fund the development of a mobile phone app to support HIV-positive individuals with treatment and counseling.

Grant projects reviewed for this chapter were assessed on two factors, based on self-reported grant descriptions from the funders. First, grants were evaluated based on their functional use within the media organisation, and whether the grant was for specific reporting efforts or for specific operational and business support. Grants with a specific reporting focus were then further categorised based on the focus of the reporting. In most cases, grants had dual purposes: both functional support and support for specific coverage.

Compared to global spending, grants to Southeast Asia remain very small.

Forty-eight of the 83 journalism grants were described as ‘general support’ without further specifics. Twenty-six of the grants focused on business operational support, including support for revenue diversification and digital transitions. Funding went to eight projects for capacity-building and training projects focused on particular reporting areas. The Thomson Reuters Institute was the leading donor in this funding category. All of the journalism grants were from a mix of North American and European funders; no regional support is recorded in the database.

Grants focused on a wide range of specific topics, which often correlated to the interests of individual funders. Sixteen projects focused on specific ethnic or indigenous communities. The Open Society Foundation and MDIF’s Myanmar program were the most significant funders. Documentary film was a leading topic area in Indonesia, with the Ford Foundation leading the support efforts. Investigative journalism projects were the focus of several grant efforts. The National Endowment for Democracy was the leading donor across the region in this area. Other topics that received specific grant support included women and children; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues; public health; and the environment.

Media Impact Funders, Grant Project Topical Focus, 2016 to 2020 21

Number of projects05101520
Ethnic​/​Indigenous Communities
16
Documentary Film
10
Women and Sexual Minorities
9
Investigative Journalism
6
Disabled
5
Development
4
Media Literacy
4
Public Health
4
Environment
3
Agriculture
2
Children
2
General Support – No topical focus
18

While limited, this data begins to paint a picture of news media grant funding in Southeast Asia. Compared to global spending, grants to Southeast Asia remain very small. All of the grants recorded were from North American or European-based funders. MIF recorded no support given to news media or journalism from Asia-based NGOs or philanthropies. Grant funding fell into two large categories: grants that support news media or journalistic efforts; and grants to support the media operations of CSOs pursuing other socially valuable efforts that require media or communications support. The latter category is likely relevant to grant funding for news media only tangentially. In fact, news media or journalism-related projects represented only half of the projects recorded in the MIF database.

The Climate Reality Project
Funding tends to focus on training and capacity building, not on building media institutions or specific reporting projects.

Training and networking as media support

In addition to grants and corporate partnerships, media in Southeast Asia frequently benefit from training and networking support. While these programs may not provide a direct cash benefit, they enhance media skills and support media network building that would be unlikely to happen without the support of external partners.

An examination of publicly available reports of projects led by media assistance organisations working in Southeast Asia suggest organisations fall into two groups: the media development departments of international public broadcasters and media development specialist organisations.

Across the programs in Southeast Asia, training and networking capacity-building programs comprise the majority. Most programs focused on specific reporting topics: out of 32 training programs reviewed, 7 focused on environmental reporting; 6 on women, children and gender equality; 5 on fact-checking and disinformation; and 5 on investigative journalism and other journalism skills. The remainder covered a number of specific topics, including community radio management, rural development issues, migration and human trafficking.

Among the international public broadcasters working in Southeast Asia and reporting on their capacity-building efforts, Deutsche Welle Akademie (DW Akademie), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and BBC Media Action stand out. In each case, these broadcasters’ media support efforts are underwritten by the respective national foreign aid agency. All three work to develop journalism capacity and support local media through programmes that develop unique content offerings to address specific social or reporting issues. The media content created, usually radio or television programming, is then distributed through local media channels. Local journalists benefit from the reporting experience and local media receive fees to distribute the developed programming. Myanmar and Cambodia stand out as focal points for international public broadcaster activity. The ABC was unique in its focus on Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.

In addition to support for programming development and distribution, another common focus for external support is the development of networks among journalists and media outlets to cover specific topics. For example, Internews, the US-based not-for-profit, has helped facilitate several environment-related efforts through its global Earth Journalism Network. In Southeast Asia, Internews has helped the Mekong Matters Journalism Network train and support journalists and media outlets to report on Mekong regional development and related environmental impacts. The project distributes its reporting through its Mekong Eye website, as well as through several other media outlets in the region. The Mekong Matters Journalism Network is financially supported through grants from the US Agency for International Development.

A similar journalism and media collaboration, ‘The Pangolin Reports’, covered the illegal trade in pangolins and was underwritten in part by Hong Kong-based ADMCapital Foundation. 22 ADMCapital Foundation is one of the few regionally based funders. ‘The Pangolin Reports’ work won the 2020 Online Journalism Award for Excellence for Collaboration and Partnerships. 23

Almost all of the funding for Southeast Asian journalism is from outside of the region.

Conferences, seminars and research on media and journalism topics also received some grant support. Leading donors in this area are two European organisations, International Media Support (IMS) from Denmark and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) from Germany. Research and conference topics often focused on specific issues related to the practice of journalism and the role of the regional media industry. IMS’s 2017 ‘A changing Asia media’, 24 an assessment of South and Southeast Asian media opportunities and challenges, lays the groundwork for understanding areas for media assistance and support throughout the region. Other, more specific, research and seminar efforts include KAS’s 2019 Dialog on Personal Data Protection 25 and IMS’s research on the safety and personal security of women journalists, also from 2019. 26

Small, remote support for journalism and news media

The traditional financial models that support news media in Southeast Asia are rapidly failing. Resources to incubate news media startups remain thin and mostly focused on the largest media markets in the region. News media have some access to international grants, corporate partnerships, and training and networking programs. But relative to spending in North American and Europe, these sources of support are small. And while Asian philanthropic and not-for-profits play a significant role in supporting news media, almost all of the funding for Southeast Asian journalism is from outside of the region, mostly North American and European international development agencies and not-for-profits.

The fragile business environment for news media and journalism in Southeast Asia makes developing a robust source of grant support even more important. Funding today is small and funders are outside of the region and often difficult to contact. Funding tends to focus on training and capacity building, not on building media institutions or specific reporting projects. For Southeast Asia’s news media to continue to fulfill its role in civil society, more funding needs to be deployed and funders need to refocus on building journalism institutions and storytelling.

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    Campbell Brown, ‘Doing more to support local news’, Facebook Journalism Project, 15 January 2019, https://​www.​facebook.​com/​journalismproject/​facebook-​supports-​local-​news.

  9. 9

    Alex Fenby, ‘5 tips to help newsrooms create better videos - Lessons from the Facebook Accelerator in Singapore’, Facebook Journalism Project, 23 October 2019, https://​www.​facebook.​com/​journalismproject/​how-​to-​make-​online-​news-​videos.

  10. 10

    Campbell Brown, ‘Facebook invests additional $100 million to support news industry during the coronavirus crisis’, Facebook Journalism Project, 30 March 2020, https://​www.​facebook.​com/​journalismproject/​coronavirus-​update-​news-​industry-​support.

  11. 11

    Anjali Kapoor, ‘Facebook invests $2 million to support Asia-Pacific newsrooms during Covid-19’, Facebook Journalism Project, 15 July 2020, https://​www.​facebook.​com/​journalismproject/​programs/​grants/​coronavirus-​asia-​pacific-​support.

  12. 12

    Alison Langley, ‘Google France’s $81 million media boost’, Columbia Journalism Review, 30 September 2013, https://​www.​cjr.​org/​behind_​the_​news/​google_​france_​digital_​innovati.​php.

  13. 13

    Sarah Perez, ‘Google launches a new home for journalists with “NewsLab”‘, TechCrunch, 22 June 2015, https://​techcrunch.​com/​2015/​06/​22/​google-​launches-​a-​new-​home-​for-​journalists-​with-​news-​lab/​.

  14. 14

    Philipp Schindler, ‘The Google News Initiative: Building a stronger future for news’, The Keyword blog, 20 March 2018, https://​www.​blog.​google/​outreach-​initiatives/​google-​news-​initiative/​announcing-​google-​news-​initiative/​.

  15. 15

    Kate Beddoe, ‘Here are the winners of the GNI Innovation Challenge in Asia Pacific’, The Keyword blog, 26 March 2019, https://​www.​blog.​google/​around-​the-​globe/​google-​asia/​here-​are-​winners-​gni-​innovation-​challenge-​asia-​pacific/​; Fazal Ashfaq, ‘18 Asia Pacific news organizations with big ideas’, The Keyword blog, 30 April 2020, https://​www.​blog.​google/​around-​the-​globe/​google-​asia/​gni-​innovation-​challenge-​apac/​.

  16. 16

    Richard Gingras, ‘A global journalism emergency relief fund for local news’, 15 April 2020, https://​blog.​google/​outreach-​initiatives/​google-​news-​initiative/​global-​journalism-​emergency-​relief-​fund-​local-​news/​.

  17. 17

    Google, ‘Google News Initiative: Impact Report 2020’, November 2020, https://​newsinitiative.​withgoogle.​com/​impact/​.

  18. 18

    Media Impact Funders, https://​mediaimpactfunders.​org/​.

  19. 19

    Ibid.

  20. 20

    Ibid.

  21. 21

    Ibid.

  22. 22

    ADMCapital Foundation, ‘The Pangolin Reports – A journalist collective’, https://​www.​admcf.​org/​project/​the-​pangolin-​reports-​a-​journalist-​collective/​.

  23. 23

    Online Journalism Awards, ‘2020 Excellence in Collaboration and Partnerships – The Pangolin Reports’, 2020, https://​awards.​journalists.​org/​entries/​the-​pangolin-​reports/​.

  24. 24

    IMS (International Media Support), ‘A changing Asian media: Assessing challenges and opportunities for evolving media in South and Southeast Asia’, December 2017, https://​www.​mediasupport.​org/​publication/​a-​changing-​asian-​media/​.

  25. 25

    Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Dialog on Personal Data Protection, https://​www.​kas.​de/​en/​web/​guest/​events/​detail/-/​content/​dialogue-​on-​personal-​data-​protection.

  26. 26

    IMS, ‘Breaking the silence: Women journalists fight harassment in the workplace’, 1 November 2019, https://​www.​mediasupport.​org/​breaking-​the-​silence-​women-​journalists-​fight-​harassment-​in-​the-​workplace/​.

Image of the author Ross Settles

Ross Settles is an adjunct professor at The University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre focusing on media viability and innovation. During his career, he has worked with newsrooms and media executives in Asia and North America to create the best mix of revenue sources and content needed to satisfy audiences and fund operations. Currently, his work is focused on the unique media economics facing journalism in Asia, placing a special focus on Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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