Exploring the scope of European media philanthropy

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How do European foundations engage with journalism? This question cannot be answered as straightforwardly as it might seem. With the exception of a handful of high-profile journalism funders, many European foundations do not consider media as their core mission, yet may think of it as a complementary or side activity. That makes it very hard to tell who is investing how much and with what kind of objectives, how foundations learn about the sector, and what obstacles they might face.

Hence, the Journalism Funders Forum (JFF), which is rallying European philanthropy around news and current affairs in the public interest, has just launched a broad survey, aiming to establish a high-level overview of donor’s strategic approaches (or, indeed, lack thereof). This is a first in the European media philanthropy landscape, seeking to establish a benchmark against which to calibrate future activities and research.

The state of journalism funding in Europe

Compared with the United States, Europe is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to philanthropic support for journalism. This has to do, among other things, with the strong position of public service media in many European countries, and with the fact that states have a tradition of subsidising privately-owned media directly and indirectly as well. Hence, funders did not necessarily perceive a particularly strong need to intervene.

However, that is not the full picture. First, for political as well as economic reasons, media pluralism and media freedom are unevenly distributed across Europe. Second, long-established media organisations, in particular in print and broadcasting, tend to have more clout with policymakers and foundation leaders than fledgling outlets that aspire to bring new and different perspectives and approaches to journalism. Third, many potential donors struggle to support media because charity and foundation laws put obstacles in their way. And last, but not least, there appears to be some uncertainty about the very notion of journalism itself: What role does it play for democracy, in the fight against mis- and disinformation, and how do you define the demarcation line between proper journalism and mission-driven public relations?

Hence, despite the sector’s obvious need and demand for support, to date only a precious few foundations engage with quality journalism in Europe.

Now, the COVID-19 crisis has cast a harsh spotlight on the financial and operational precariousness of much of Europe’s independent journalism, and mobilised substantial emergency grants. This readiness to help in the short term should, however, not cloud the question of how quality journalism can be rendered sustainable in the long term.

Boosting media philanthropy at the European level

In response to all of the above, JFF was established as the first cross-border European initiative to stimulate cooperation and exchange between philanthropic foundations aiming to boost media and journalism in the public interest. It strives to provide funders with the knowledge, tools, and networks they need in order to mobilise more abundant journalism funding.

We believe that support for independent, public interest journalism is essential to protect democracy within Europe, and we regularly connect stakeholders from philanthropy with leading European news organisations. The objective here is to forge better links between a greater diversity of funders and grantees and raise awareness of the current challenges and long-term opportunities in the journalism sector.

JFF is supported by EFC members Adessium Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fondation Nicolas Puech and Open Society Foundations as well as Stichting Democratie en Media, Schöpflin Stiftung and News Integrity Initiative. Since its launch in 2017, it has commissioned a series of country reports taking stock of foundation-funded journalism in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, and brought together some 500 stakeholders in the course of 17 events to date. As a result, the Forum already identified many crucial points and established momentum for future efforts. What remains missing, however, is an overview of the strategic positioning of European foundations when it comes to journalism and media.

The new survey will be trying to get a sense of how both, foundations that already invest in European journalism and those that do not (yet), position themselves. It will highlight existing gaps and explore the potential to increase the overall amount of media funding, as well as the options to recruit new philanthropic funders to the field.

To this end, JFF calls on as many European foundations as possible to take part in their survey. The aggregated findings will be shared in a public report this autumn but all individual responses will be kept confidential. If you would like to participate, please get in touch with JFF Project Manager, Biba Klomp (klomp@ejc.net) or complete the survey here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JFFsurvey.

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