Knight Foundation Makes $100,000 Grant to Online Media Defense Group in the U.K.

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May 3, 2011; Source: Online Journalism News | Internet journalists sometimes face significant threats to their freedom of speech. Aside from the bloggers who are really consulting firms hawking their wares, many bloggers and online journalists work with and for nonprofits and are hardly capitalized to withstand efforts to silence them. When hit with litigation and laws meant to restrict online press freedom, they have few resources to draw on to pay for legal representation, court costs, and other expenses.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation just announced a grant of $100,000 to the Media Legal Defense Initiative, a London-based organization that offers legal advice and representation to online journalists faced with free speech threats. This follows a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Although the MLDI mostly addresses the challenges facing online journalists in countries where governmental and corporate entities try to crush dissident voices, Nonprofit Quarterly recognizes its membership in the fraternity of online journals, newspapers, bloggers, and independent journalists on the internet. According to MLDI spokesperson Peter Noorlander, the "internet has changed everything . . . [but] hasn't changed the crude tools that tyrants, repressive governments and the well-connected use to silence the voices of freedom.” He cites “the same old threats of censorship, criminal libel and predatory litigation” that can be used to silence online journalists as well as print journalists.

This issue is particularly important to us given our commitment to collaborative journalism, in which we encourage nonprofit staff and community residents to comment freely on our website, feed us news tips, work with us in developing stories, and write online commentary and features for the NPQ website. As Noorlander put it, “Everyone – whether a traditional print or broadcast journalist, a blogger or even an everyday citizen posting on a public forum – is entitled their right of free speech free of free of unreasonable legal action."

The occasional threats against NPQ and other domestic U.S. media outlets don’t rise to the legal and often physical threats that Internet journalists face in other countries. Knight and the other U.S. foundations that support MLDI – the Open Society Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – deserve plaudits for their commitment to online free speech, but this is one area of philanthropic activity that is hardly suffering from overfunding.—Rick Cohen

  • Daniel Borochoff

    Funding to protect journalists from SLAPP suits filed by wealthy special interests to silence legitimate critics is essential to our democracy. Particularly since our expensive legal system favors those who can afford to to participate in it and often kicks out those who can’t. People need to realize that even with the First Amendment, we do not have free speech rights unless we fight for them. It is damaging our country and the nonprofit sector that people are afraid to speak the truth because they do not feel that they can afford to defend themselves in a defamation lawsuit. We as a sector need to come to the aid of legitimate critics who are wrongly attacked with costly frivolous lawsuits.

    Daniel Borochoff
    American Institute of Philanthropy