Thomson Reuters Foundation sharpens focus on media freedom, inclusive economies, human rights


Alliance magazine


The London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation is sharpening its focus on strengthening media freedom, inclusive economies, and human rights as a part of its new strategy, said CEO Antonio Zappulla in an interview with Alliance magazine.

‘The selling point of our organisation is our unique blend of legal and media capacity to achieve systemic change,’ Zappulla said. He also highlighted the Foundation’s efforts to  ‘to strengthen the media ecosystem as a watchdog for democracy and tool for development’. 

The Foundation announced the new thematic focuses when Zappulla took over as CEO last April. He had previously been working within the organisation for several years, a background that he said helped ‘massively’ when it came to setting priorities in his new role.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has an annual budget of about £15 million of which £4.5 million is committed from its parent company, Thomson Reuters. The Foundation is predominantly an operating rather than grantmaking Foundation running programmes and training in partnership with others to effect change through its different focus areas. With media freedom, in addition to working on issues associated with free press, it runs journalism training in standards, ethics, anti-corruption, and good governance reporting.

The Foundation’s work on inclusive economies focuses on changing economic and business models to make them more equitable. It also overlaps with their decade-long work on forced labour and anti-slavery and includes data discrimination, meaning examining algorithms for built-in biases. This is ‘a new frontier of human rights’ according to Zappulla.

While acknowledging that donors will inevitably need to pursue different paths to development, Zappulla argued that true systemic transformation is difficult without using legal and media resources to effect change.

‘Last year at Davos, I was invited to a small gathering where Bill Gates talked about the work their foundation has done on HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. I raised the question of what they were doing about the media and legal environment – if you are a member of the LGBT community in Tanzania, you are automatically breaking the law because homosexuality is criminalised there and the media is extremely homophobic. So how can you reach your target population with anti-retroviral drugs in a country in which it would be difficult for someone to self-identify as gay?’

The full interview with Antonio Zappulla was published in Alliance magazine’s June 2020 issue.

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