Omidyar commits $100M as interest in the future of the media grows

Stephen King of Omidyar Network announces a $100 million commitment by in a conversation with Pat Mitchell at the Skoll World Forum. Photo by: Catherine Cheney / Devex

Omidyar Network today announced a $100 million commitment to “tackle some of the root causes of the global trust deficit,” which is eroding democratic principles, it said.

Over the next three years, the fund will focus on strengthening investigative journalism and independent media; tackling misinformation and hate speech; and enabling citizens to engage with governments. It will include investments in for-profit companies and grants for nonprofit organizations, civil society groups and academics.

Grantees include the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which will expand its investigations into the misuse of power; the Anti-Defamation League, which will set up a center in Silicon Valley, working with technology companies to combat the growth of hate speech; and Alianza Latinoamericana para la Tecnología Cívica, a project launched this year by Omidyar Network, Fundación Avina, and Avina Americas to support civic technology platforms in Latin America.

“Across the world, we see a worrying resurgence of authoritarian politics that is undermining progress towards a more open and inclusive society,” Omidyar Network Managing Partner Matt Bannick said in advance of the announcement.

A growing distrust in institutions, and in the media in particular, is leading to the devaluation of facts, the spread of misinformation and the withdrawal of channels that give citizens a voice, he said.

“These trends cannot become the norm, and we must protect the principles of openness, participation, and accountability,” he said. “These are the foundations of a healthy democratic society.”

Lucía Abelenda, regional manager for the Technology for Social Change Program at Fundación Avina, which administers ALTEC, told Devex that: “Distrust between citizens and governments has increased in Latin America and civic technology is an opportunity to increase government transparency to fight corruption and increase quality in services.”

The announcement was made by Stephen King, global lead for governance and citizen engagement at Omidyar Network, at a breakfast conversation on the future of the media at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford.

The Skoll Foundation, which invests in social entrepreneurs, is convening experts to identify the most promising solutions to the challenges facing the global media landscape, building on a forum earlier this year in Palo Alto, California, where the foundation is headquartered.

The commitment by Omidyar Network reflects the growing number of conversations, funding announcements and collaborations resulting from a growing interest among foundations in supporting independent media.

Patrice Schneider, chief strategy officer at the Media Development Investment Fund — which has deployed $150 million to 90 independent media organizations worldwide — said that there is a need not only to reinvent media but also to reinvent the philanthropy that supports it. That can only happen when we make the connection between independent media and civil society, he said in a panel discussion following the announcement.

“This is a lot of money, but it’s also not a lot of money,” King said of the Omidyar Network funding. “We need others to step up to the plate as well.”

He said that Omidyar Network meets regularly with foundations donating to and investing in the media, including Open Society, Ford, Bill & Melinda Gates, Knight, MacArthur and Rockefeller.

The media donors compare notes, strategize and work toward collective impact, King said. Their goals include minimizing the burden of reporting on organizations, allowing them to provide a single report to a coalition of donors.

However, he said he hopes to see more philanthropists in the developing world take on the trust deficit locally, pointing to the example of the Infosys founders, who are now supporting media in India.

“We hopefully will see more people coming to the table and more commitments being made,” he said. “This is really urgent. This is not something we can turn our back on. And this is something that, if we don’t act, we will see the situation getting worse.”

Omidyar Network was established by Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay. The auction website's first president, Jeff Skoll, later founded the Skoll Foundation, which he now chairs.

The $100 million announcement builds on $220 million it has committed over the past decade as part of its Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.