The media is a crucial pillar of any free, fair and informed society. Media outlets are facing unprecedented economic and technological challenges, and there is an alarming increase in attacks on journalists around the world.
The media is a crucial pillar of any free, fair and informed society. An independent and thriving media holds governments and businesses to account and empowers citizens to make better decisions for themselves and their communities.
Societies in which journalists are able to report freely and professionally are safer and more inclusive. Institutions are more transparent and accountable, and power and resources are distributed more justly.
The vital role that journalists play is increasingly under attack around the world. The profession faces unprecedented economic and technological challenges. Rising government control of the news industry, disruption of traditional business models, rapid changes in how people consume news, growing competition from alternative media, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, and the resulting erosion of public trust in news sources undermine accurate and impartial journalism. At the same time, there has been an alarming increase in attacks on journalists globally.
We work with journalists, media managers, legal practitioners, policymakers, regulators, technologists, academics and business leaders to foster a free and prosperous media ecosystem that can play a vital role in supporting democracy and development.
Our media freedom work combines our unique blend of expertise in the journalism, media development and legal fields, with the aim of:
We support local media to produce accurate, impartial and reliable journalism that bolsters government and business accountability and ensures public access to information.
Training and mentoring for journalists
We train reporters around the world, promoting integrity, independence, and freedom from bias in news reporting. The core of our training is focused on:
Combining our Media and Legal Expertise
The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s unique combination of legal and media offerings allows it to amplify its impact around the world. For instance, as part of the Baltic Independent Media (BIM) initiative, we worked with the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence to produce comparative legal research on the legislative frameworks for media freedom and freedom of speech in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Following the completion of this research, we ran a series of workshops for independent media in each country to help outlets in the Baltics better understand how media legislation could impact on their work.
Despite receiving large sums of money through foreign aid and remittances, Africa loses huge amounts to illicit financial flows – money that pours out of economies through aggressive tax avoidance, corruption, smuggling, and other means, to the tune of an estimated $30-60 billion annually. This deprives African nations of vital tax revenues that could be spent on social programmes including healthcare, education and basic infrastructure, and of funds that could otherwise be invested in projects to create jobs and drive development.
Reporting on this subject is a major challenge for journalists, as it requires specific knowledge of complex financial agreements and access to carefully hidden information. This makes corruption a largely untold story.
Our Wealth of Nations initiative aims to strengthen and scale up independent media across Africa with the goal of exposing the financial manipulations that stop the continent from flourishing. It brings together journalists and media practitioners from across the continent, to increase their investigative capacity and boost the effectiveness of newsrooms.
An investigative report by a journalist participating in Wealth of Nations revealed how Egypt’s free-trade zone was being used as a tax haven by many companies operating there. The story, which uncovered new data about the tax evasion and ensuing loss of government revenue, was cited and praised by the Ministry of Finance when making the case for reform. Despite stiff opposition from the investment authority, the law was changed.
Wealth of Nations is supported by a grant from Norway’s development agency, Norad.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the critical need for free-flowing, accurate and independent information. Yet there are communities around the world who are often overlooked, or who do not have access to mainstream media, meaning that mediums such as community radio become even more critical in disseminating life-saving information.
With the aim of bolstering local media and providing on-the-ground support to indigenous communities in Africa during the health crisis, we formed a consortium with InsightShare and PALCA to deliver a 12-month media training programme, funded by Refinitiv, to Radio Loliondo FM - a community radio which serves audiences spanning the Ngorongoro district in Tanzania to the National Park of Serengeti in Kenya.
The radio was struggling to fulfil its mission to reach and engage vulnerable communities with trusted and culturally relevant information. Utilising our bottom-up approach to training, we began by upskilling Tanzanian journalists and supported aspiring reporters in Kenya to propel the reach and impact of the community radio. We also collaborated with local community leaders to understand their needs and helped the radio station to develop new radio programmes in the local language.
The consortium’s intervention has already had a tangible impact on individuals’ lives. For example, with our support, reporters from Radio Loliondo FM developed a show, raising awareness of the harm that FGM inflicts on women and girls. As a result, a local woman stopped practising FGM, and listeners reported they were unaware of its harm.
We work to create a positive environment for media to operate independently and safely, and to improve the professional and business standards of independent media in countries at risk.
Legal research and guides to promote media freedom
We work with media professionals and law firms to research media laws and regulations, to strengthen the media ecosystem and to guide journalists and media managers seeking to produce free and independent journalism.
We provide a host of resources, including tools, guides and country-level research for lawyers, media professionals and regulators.
Freedom of expression and freedom of information are among the most essential human rights. These principles are enshrined in international law, and governments can be held accountable if the voices of journalists are silenced. We connected non-profit organisation Reporters Without Borders with legal firm Paul Hastings, and its international team of 70 lawyers. They developed a handbook of decisions and recommendations made by international and regional bodies and courts, relating to freedom of expression. The handbook allows journalists to work with greater confidence, knowing they are complying with international laws. It is also useful for journalists’ legal representatives, who can lack expertise in international law, by allowing them to quickly access examples of relevant international cases and standards.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in 2019 alone 250 journalists were imprisoned around the world for reporting on matters of public interest. The vast majority of those were sentenced under anti-state charges or defamation laws, which permit journalists to be prosecuted for the content of their reporting. Governments in the Americas are increasingly using these defamation laws to suppress journalists and crack down on dissent. We connected CPJ with 12 law firms, led by Debevoise & Plimpton, to research the enforcement of criminal defamation laws, uncovering best and worst practices across 33 countries in the Americas. The resulting report revealed that 32 out of the 33 countries surveyed use these laws to continue to silence journalists who are critical of politicians and public officials. This has, in some cases, led to the closure of many independent news outlets. The report has enabled the CPJ to actively advance their legal reform agenda. They have engaged in critical dialogue with governments and intergovernmental stakeholders, including discussions with the President of the Peruvian Congress about a prospective bill to decriminalise defamation.
Whistleblowing is a type of freedom of expression in which a person or group exposes illegal, unethical or incorrect information or activity within an organisation. For this reason, whistleblowers often put themselves at risk of backlash, harassment or retaliation. Until recently, despite pressure from civil society and major disclosures such as LuxLeaks and the Panama Papers, the laws protecting whistleblowers across European countries have been limited.
We connected Blueprint for Free Speech – a non-profit dedicated to improving freedom of expression – with global law firm Dechert LLP, to draft a memorandum on the legal process for creating an EU directive that could provide a more comprehensive and universal standard of protection for whistleblowers.
The legal research empowered Blueprint to inform the EU community on this process, as well as the legal arguments to improve transparency.
In April 2019, whistleblowers were, for the first time, given EU-wide protection through landmark legislation passed by the EU Parliament. The legislation shields whistleblowers from retaliation, creates ‘safe channels’ to allow them to report breaches of EU law, and aims to encourage reports of wrongdoing.
From impersonation accounts to hateful slurs and death threats, journalists around the world are facing increasing levels of abuse. The consequences are significant, ranging from physical and psychological harm to the individual, to preventing their work and effectively silencing their reporting.
In response to these surging attacks, we partnered with UNESCO, the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute to develop a range of practical and legal tools for journalists, media managers and newsrooms to strengthen responses to online and offline harassment and to protect free and independent media.
The Practical Guide for Women Journalists on How to Respond to Online Harassment and Checklist and Guidelines on Gender-Sensitive Safety Policies for Newsrooms address the challenges experienced by reporters and media workers in a climate where nearly three-quarters of women journalists surveyed say they have experienced online abuse. The Online Attacks Against Journalists: Know Your Rights Guide provides those who are targeted with specific legal tools to deal with online harassment and covers the legal rights of journalists across 13 countries.
2020 was a crucial year in the United States; presidential elections took place amidst harsh social tensions across the country. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked outrage, led to widespread demonstrations and put the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront of the national stage. Journalists covering the Black Lives Matter movement were being attacked in an unprecedented manner by both police and activists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reached out to TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, and was quickly connected with an international law firm that drafted a concise “Know Your Rights” guide for journalists covering protests in the U.S. This Guide describes in simple language the protections afforded to journalists during a protest under the American constitution, as well as practical tips.
Mobilising an ecosystem of legal support for independent journalists and media organisations
Around the world, powerful actors are weaponising laws to silence independent journalism. Journalists routinely face protracted legal battles that all too often end in financial ruin, bans from practicing, or imprisonment. At the same time, when journalists are assaulted or even murdered, the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.
To address this growing threat, we teamed up with the Committee to Protect Journalists and Media Defence to establish the Legal Network for Journalists at Risk (LNJAR).
The Network provides a single access point to an ecosystem of legal support for independent journalists and media outlets, which is essential to ensuring that they can continue to cover key public interest stories that spark critical debate and hold power to account without fear of retribution.
Convening initiatives to share best practice and strengthen the media ecosystem
We regularly bring together media practitioners, media freedom NGOs, lawyers and academics to provide practical collaborative opportunities – including partnerships, alliances, networks and events – to share best practice and develop tangible solutions to strengthen media freedom and the independent media ecosystem generally.
Since 2009, we have supported and hosted the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Named in honour of American journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in Sierra Leone while on assignment for Reuters in 2000, the annual awards recognise the courageousness of freelance journalists, local reporters and news fixers who are reporting on conflict, corruption, human rights transgressions and injustice.
For the first time, winners of the 2022 and 2021 Awards spoke about their award-winning work, as well as their motivations for putting themselves at risk to keep the world informed, at Trust Conference 2022. The conversation was moderated by Christiane Amanpour CBE, Chief International Anchor at CNN, who reported with Kurt on the frontlines of the Bosnian War.
Advisory support to independent news outlets
We provide bespoke support to media organisations on all aspects of their operations, from editorial standards and operational management to business sustainability, with the aim of strengthening independent media voices in countries where free and independent media is at risk of shrinking.
Our eight-week programme of support to Latvian Radio 4 – a Russian-language public sector radio station – focused on the challenges and opportunities that arise when a news organisation transitions to digital. The programme was delivered to a cohort of around 30 participants via three modules – Contemporary Radio Journalism, Digital & Social Media, and Podcasting. These were complemented by ongoing mentoring activities to support the staff to design and implement digital-focused pilot activities.
The Foundation has increased its focus on supporting newsrooms to strengthen their resilience to changing business and news environments. As part of this, we’ve worked with around 20 newsrooms in Eastern Europe, lending our support to editorial, technical and financial resilience initiatives. We have also provided emergency funding to help newsrooms navigate the financial challenges amplified by the pandemic, worked with them to develop new editorial products that they can monetise, collaborated on how to safeguard their staff, and produced training on how they cover elections.
As part of our work to support independent media across Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, we commissioned research - funded by the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Eastern Partnership Independent Media Project - to provide outlets in each of the three countries with key audience insights and to identify additional activities that can build trust with their core audiences.
Since 2017, we have been supporting TV8 – widely regarded as the only independent media outlet in Moldova – to become financially sustainable, and, as such, a stronger provider of unbiased, high-quality news and information. Having contributed to TV8’s organisational restructuring and capacity-building, we continued to deploy experienced journalists and media managers who have helped the team develop and implement a business plan, and ensure appropriate coverage of elections.
Our newsroom consultancies on editorial policy and business generation helped TV8 improve its programming, increase its audiences across all platforms and diversify its revenue to include commercial activities. As a result, TV8 has strengthened its financial sustainability and its ability to continue to hold power to account, to become one of the country’s most trusted sources of political news.
In December 2018, TV8 received the Special Award ‘Evolution of the Year’ from the Chisinau Press Club at the Press Gala organised by the Independent Journalism Centre.
Our work with TV8 is supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the UK government.
We work with journalists, editors and media executives to ensure they face the opportunities and challenges of a changing media environment from a position of strength and to help them build better and more sustainable journalism for tomorrow.
Each year, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) at the University of Oxford, produces the Digital News Report, the world’s largest international comparative study tracking online news access, consumption and engagement around the world.
The 2022 report documents the ways in which the connection between journalism and the public may be fraying - including a fall in trust, a declining interest in news and a rise in news avoidance. It also examines audience polarisation and explores how young people access news.
The pandemic has had deep and far-reaching consequences for the journalism profession and practice. Understanding these issues is critical to strengthening an independent and thriving media and safeguarding its future in a post-COVID era. We commissioned and published a report on ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalism in Emerging Economies and the Global South’, which focused on journalists and the industry in geographies and economies largely overlooked by other research, and combined both fact-based data and first-hand experience.
The study takes a deep dive into the critical challenges faced by the profession, examining issues including the pandemic’s impact on the personal safety and welfare of journalists; the structure of newsrooms and disruption to business models; the proliferation of fake news; and surging threats to media freedom. It also identifies best practice and innovative approaches that have been developed as a response to the challenges of COVID-19.
Fifty-five members of the Foundation’s unique network of alumni, working in 26 different countries, provided insights from the ground and shared their own experiences to illustrate the reality of delivering journalism outside of North America and Western Europe. Since publication, the report has generated widespread interest from thought leaders in the sector and has been shared by organisations including the Nieman Journalism Lab, the Columbia Journalism Review, the International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Pulitzer Crisis Reporting Center and the Foreign Press Association. The resource will be used to inform future stakeholder convenings hosted by the Foundation.
Support for our alumni community
We are committed to engaging with and offering ongoing support to our alumni to help them sustain their learning, strengthen their connections with peers and advance in their careers. We develop tailored workshops for our journalism alumni in their areas of expertise, as well as offering them ongoing mentoring, services and exclusive access to expert sources to help future-proof their careers.
Training the next generation of journalists
Since 2017, we have been partnering with the Arab Youth Center to deliver innovative training solutions as part of the Youth Arab Media Leaders Programme, an initiative aimed at educating future media leaders in the MENA region on topics ranging from media literacy to video journalism – all of which are fundamental pillars in the work of sustaining a positive media ecosystem.
We also work with academic institutions to strengthen professional development opportunities for journalists.