Who’s funding humanitarian reporting?

In a recent talk at City, University of London, Dr Martin Scott discussed the role of foundations in financially supporting international and humanitarian news content.

Scott explained how some areas of international news, such as finance or celebrity, are still doing relatively well, but other areas struggle. One of these areas is humanitarian reporting. As news organisations scale down or close their foreign bureaux, the reporting of humanitarian news is facing increasing difficulties. This means that the funding received by foundations has become increasingly important.

One key area is foundation funding for humanitarian news. This, however, has consequences. Although direct editorial intervention from donors is rare, recent research suggests that there may be a subtle indirect influence.

These potential indirect influences, according to Scott, may stem from a number of factors including self-censorship (a tendency to avoid negative coverage), a ‘benevolent fog’ (a tendency towards positive coverage), ideology (a tendency to focus on technocratic solutions), an echo chamber (the accumulated effect of foundation funding acrtoss multiple outlets), and the requirement to generate impact.

Together, these factors could ultimately limit what Scott calls ‘the sphere of legitimate controversy’, i.e. it may narrow the debate around humanitarian aid and humanitarian reporting.

The lecture was based partly on Scott’s research, and he engaged the students in a discussion about how we may fund humanitarian news in the future. The questions raised by Scott were unfortunately not resolved, so the debate continues among researchers, reporters and aid agencies.