Former Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner (top) is chief executive of The Journalism Foundation, a new not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote, develop and sustain free and fair journalism across the world, with the backing of the Lebedev family, owners of the Independent and London Evening Standard.
The Journalism Foundation is launching today with two initiatives: It is supporting the development of Stoke-on-Trent hyper local website www.pitsnpots.co.uk in a bid to increase interest in local politics.
The Foundation, in partnership with the department of journalism at London’s City University, is also establishing the first practical training courses for journalists in Tunisia, teaching local journalists how to report in a free and open society.
Simon Kelner said “I am delighted to lead this new body, which will show that journalism can be a force for good by supporting initiatives that have a direct and positive effect on people’s lives.”
The Foundation has a board of Trustees chaired by Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of the Independent and the London Evening Standard. His fellow trustees include Baroness Kennedy, the human rights lawyer, Lord Fowler, former chair of the House of Commons media select committee, and Sir John Tusa, former director general of BBC World Service.
The Journalism Foundation says its aim is "to demonstrate how journalism can be a force for good by supporting projects which have a direct and positive effect on people’s lives."
The Foundation says of its work:
- We will fund projects whose purpose is to increase engagement in civic society at a local or national level
- We will only back initiatives that use journalism as an instrument for the public good
- We will support investigative journalists working to expose truth in dangerous conditions.
- We will help journalists exploit new-found liberties in countries where press freedom has been an alien concept.
- We will help develop community journalism initiatives and will give grants to suitable projects
- We will give bursaries to individual journalists and will run an annual award
The Foundation says it is launching now because: "Free journalism is under attack as never before. In the mature democracies of the West, the financial pressures faced by all media groups have meant two things: greater consolidation of media ownership, and an imperative to drive down costs. As a result, the pressure on journalists to act in the commercial interests of their proprietors is increasing, and the public can be short-changed with journalism that is compromised by political or proprietorial influence.
"At the same time, the political backlash in Britain to the hacking scandal will result in tighter, and possibly statutory, regulation. As the Leveson Inquiry gets under way, it is clear that the British Press as a whole is on trial, and the public may be left with the impression that journalism is an ignoble trade, full of sharp practice and skulduggery. What’s more, traditional freedoms, including that of self-regulation, may disappear. The Foundation stands against further restrictions that may curb journalists operating in perfectly legitimate and legal ways.
"Journalism is changing rapidly. The open access of the internet, the rise of the blogosphere and the advent of social media has seen an exponential rise in citizen journalism. We have seen during the Arab spring the powerful role these networks can play in the effective dissemination of information and opinion. This is journalism every bit as worthwhile as more traditional forms. There are many projects in this field that fulfil an important public function, but lack for support, professional advice and resources.
"In many areas of the world, local newspapers are dying, and are not being replaced by other media. This leaves a big gap in the reporting of local affairs and regional politics. The role for journalism – print, broadcast or online - to make up the democratic deficit is only too clear.
"And in the developing world, journalists can be subject to draconian government control. This has made the free and fair reporting of events extremely difficult and very often dangerous. At the same time, fewer and fewer media organisations are investing in original journalism, and investigative reporting is almost extinct. This means that, in many areas of the world, the rich, the powerful and the corrupt are not scrutinised and exposed by a free press acting in the public interest."
Evgeny Lebedev said: "At a time when, quite rightly, a light is being shone on malpractice in some areas of the British Press, I am delighted to give my backing to an initiative whose purpose is to demonstrate the positive aspects of journalism. Free speech has always been a touchstone issue for me, and an organisation intent on giving people around the world a voice is worthy of widespread support."
Alexander Lebedev added: "I am delighted the Journalism Foundation is launching. For over 20 years I have argued that democracy cannot flourish in countries without a free press. And it is only by championing brave, investigative journalists across the globe that international corruption can be tackled effectively. Now more than ever, we must support journalists who hold the powerful to account – and I am certain this foundation will do that brilliantly."