Special Topic: Public funding of media

Special Topics / Friday, May 7th, 2021

by Cherian George

In May 2021, Singapore Press Holdings announced that it would hive off its media business into a non-profit company, SPH Media. The government said it is “prepared to provide it with funding support to help it build capabilities for the future”.

There is a long tradition of public funding for media in democracies. The need for it has grown in recent years due to the digital disruption to the journalism’s old business model. The challenge is to ensure that such funding does not have political strings attached.

The following are some open access resources that the public may find helpful when engaging with this topic.

1. Why the kind of public interest journalism that citizens need tends to be undersupplied by commercial media. Such journalism can be considered a public good, and a case of market failure.

The strengths of independent public-funded media as a vehicle for good journalism. Research shows that, compared with profit-driven companies, public service media are better at cultivating citizens who are more knowledgeable about national and world affairs, and more resilient against disinformation.

3. Risks and limitations of government funding of media.

4. How to ensure that public service media serve the public interests without political and commercial interference. Key points: build independent governance structures; provide long-term and not ad-hoc funding.

5. How to provide private media with public funding in ways that do not compromise editorial independence. Key points: funding agency should be free of political influence; provide transparent eligibility criteria for funding; minimise discretion in allocation.