With the Press Under Attack—Literally, in Many Places—Who's Coming to Its Defense?

 Photo:   PRESSLAB /shutterstock

Photo:  PRESSLAB/shutterstock

We’ve barely climbed out of bed a few dozen times in 2018, yet already, the media report that two journalists have been killed.

More fake news? No. More of the same. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) researchers have recorded the killings of 1,278 journalists worldwide since 1992, 46 in 2017 alone.

Amid this climate of violence against the “dishonest” media—incited by words and executed with weapons—some funders and grantees are stepping up work to protect the press.

Take the CPJ, which mobilizes a network of correspondents who report and take action on behalf of targeted journalists, document the crimes committed against the press, and support efforts that promote the safety of front-line journalists.

The CPJ is one of many organizations adapting to an era of heightened verbal assaults on the media—and the real-world repercussions of those attacks.

“Attacks on the press are not new,” CPJ Director of Development John Weis told Inside Philanthropy. “What's new in the United States is President Trump's anti-press rhetoric and his use of the term ‘fake news’ to denounce critical journalists.”

“That has emboldened autocratic leaders around the world who use similar language to justify their own repressive policies,” said Weis. “Funders, new and longstanding, who are concerned about the current climate of press freedom in the U.S. and abroad have stepped up their support.”

CPJ’s 2017 annual report lists big players as supporters, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Other funders who have made large commitments to the CPJ in recent years, often to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, include the Omidyar Network, the Ford Foundation, the Levy Foundation, and philanthropists Morton and Jane Blaustein.

Related: Who’s Giving to Protect Journalists in the Age of Trump?

It's not surprising to see the Omidyar Network among CPJ's supporters. Few billionaire philanthropists have expressed as much alarm about Trumpism as Pierre Omidyar, who made his fortune starting eBay. Since the 2016 election, Omidyar's Twitter account has been crackling with indignation, and Omidyar-backed institutions have swung into high gear to strengthen independent media. Grants have flowed from the Omidyar Network and the Democracy Fund, as well as the Press Freedom Defense Fund at First Look Media, which was established in 2014 but has become increasingly active in the past year. First Look says that grants from the fund are used to back "challenges to policies or actions that restrict press freedom and obstruct access to essential information in the United States and around the world."  

Another champion of press freedoms, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), is building on its three decades of work protecting journalists to help women caught in the increasingly media-hostile climate.

“In light of the worrying uptick of attacks against journalists and growth of online harassment, we have redoubled our efforts by hiring a security expert, and designing security training specifically for female journalists,” IWMF executive director Elisa Lees Muñoz, told Inside Philanthropy. (Learn more about IWMF here.)

“Beyond actively researching the extent of attacks, being a leading advocate and recognizing those who put their lives at risk, we have provided more than 400 journalists with lifesaving four-day Hostile Environments and First Aid Training, and given more than 70 journalists in crisis $300,000 in emergency assistance,” said Lees Muñoz.

As we've reported, IWMF has a powerful friend in Howard Buffett, whose foundation committed $14 million to the organization in 2014 and 2015. These funds have allowed IWMF to step up its work protecting women journalists working in some of the most dangerous places in the world, including Latin America and the African Great Lakes Region.  

RelatedHoward Buffett Kicks in Another Ten Million Bucks for Women Journalists

One of IWMF's programs is its Emergency Fund, first established in 2013, to provide women journalists with small grants for psychological and medical care for incidents directly related to threats and crises caused by work as a journalist; three months of temporary relocation assistance in the event of crisis or threat; legal aid to counter threats of imprisonment or censorship; and non-financial assistance in the form of information about additional access to resources.

It's encouraging that defenders of the press and their funders are not backing down in the face of seemingly boundless attacks on the “DISHONEST & CORRUPT” media.

Still, in a world of billionaires and well-heeled foundations, the amounts of money flowing to protect journalists and strengthen independent media are relatively small. When will more donors realize that the crisis of ongoing attacks on a core pillar of democracy calls for a more massive response—one commensurate with the courage of the men and women on journalism’s front lines?