MANILA, Philippines – Media and news companies need more courageous investors to continue thriving.
This was one of the central themes during the 2019 Global Conference on Media Freedom's panel on media ownership held in London on Wednesday, July 10.
Among the panelists were Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, Frontier Myanmar founder Sonny Swe, and Stichting Demacratie en Media (SDM) Director Nienke Venema. SDM is an investor in “independent, critical media.”
The panelists lamented the difficulty of finding media investors. While some have succeeded, it remains a constant challenge to critical media.
“Whoever has economic control has editorial control,” Ressa said.
“We've been able to find shareholders, investors that believe in us. What makes Rappler unique is that in our shareholders’ agreement, the journalists control everything. Not just editorial but also on where the momey will be spent. When you don’t have control over where the money will be spent, you don’t have editorial control,” she said. (READ: Omidyar Network donates PDRs to Rappler managers)
“I would always ask for the editorial freedom, in return it’s hard to find [investors]. Once they invest, they need something in return… It’s difficult to find a partner who understand media,” Swe said.
Another issue in Myanmar, he said, is the rise of media funding from China, which is known to control the fourth estate.
Media: 'Lifeline of democracy'
Some investors get intimidated by the attacks on media groups. Ressa, citing the incessant Philippine government-backed cases against Rappler, said finding investors “gets harder as the attacks get worse.” (LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)
“It is far easier to intimidate the business side than it is to intimidate the journalists….. Everyone feels the pressure. I think if a business person is making the decisions that the journalists are making, those calls would be different. That’s why there has to be a journalist involved,” she said.
With this, Venema called on investors to support media, as it is the “lifeline of democracy.”
“If you value democracy you need to realize it can’t function without journalism. It’s the lifeline of democracy.... We need more courageous investors in the media space,” Venema said.
As for some advice to potential investors, Venema said they have to be “as courageous as the journalists.”
“It’s not easy. There are forces might work against it… be patient, it’s patient capital it’s not a quick exit. There is a chance you’ll make revenue. And I think the third last one, fully respect internal independence,” Venema said. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org