World News

U.N. spins off humanitarian news service after $25 million investment

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations will spin off its humanitarian news service IRIN as an independent Swiss-based foundation after getting a $25 million 15-year investment from a Hong Kong-based philanthropist.

The deal aims to leave the United Nations to concentrate on core humanitarian work while allowing IRIN, which began by faxing news about Africa in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, to expand with offices in Geneva, New York and London.

IRIN plans to add Chinese and Spanish language services to its existing English, French and Arabic output, and to boost output on mobile devices, IRIN’s interim director Ben Parker told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday.

“We’ll have a fresher voice, a sharper tone and a more engaging style that’s suited to the way news is shared and consumed today. We’ll be able to ask the tough questions in the way we haven’t always been able to do in the past,” IRIN’s interim director Ben Parker told a news conference in Geneva.

The foundation’s statutes will be fixed under Swiss law, guaranteeing editorial independence for its 170 freelance journalists and its non-profit nature.

Jho Low, director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation which made the $25 million donation, said the aim was to scale up coverage in the most under-reported areas of the world and build IRIN’s strength so it had no short-term financial worries.

“We believe in five years time IRIN can be sustainable, with one third of its income from donors and the balance of two thirds from advertising and potentially partners,” he said.

“The need for IRIN has never been more pressing.”

IRIN, which began life as “Integrated Regional Information Networks”, says it was among the first media outlets to report on the 2003 Darfur crisis, the 2011 Somali famine, this year’s unrest in Burkina Faso and, in 2009, the rise of the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Toby Chopra