BRUSSELS - 1,1 million euro to investigative journalism research grants! The European Parliament allocated the money for a pilot project, the call for proposals is out, and the news have stirred a debate in Brussels. Even if that was the only effect, the initiative by the EP would have been worth the while.
The debate about funding of quality journalism has arrived in Brussels and is ongoing in journalist circles and in the public. In this context blogger Hajo Friedrich has invited various journalism-organisations and individuals to answer questions regarding funding for investigative journalism in Europe, about an Institute for Investigative Journalism, general questions about funding of investigative journalism and more specifically questions about the role of Journalismfund.eu.
This is an important debate, which has been ongoing in EU member states and internationally for years, and it is great, that it is picked up in the Brussels-arena now.
One of the questions was, whether we believe that there is “a lack of investigative journalism in EU-reporting”. Well – there is a lack of fact-based, critical, quality journalism on most levels be that local, regional, national or European level. And yes, we – each and every individual journalist - can improve the quality of journalism in Europe significantly by doing the best possible research and following the stories, where they are ongoing – be that on local, regional, national or European level.
This is not a question of “being” an investigative journalist or not. It is a question of grabbing a good journalistic idea when it comes up, to research it thoroughly and then tell the story using principles of fact-based, critical and well-told journalism. As an individual journalist this means to learn and use new journalistic research methods, maintain a clear analysis and keep going until the facts are documented – regardless whether the story starts and ends in one country or crosses borders. Numerous journalists want to work this way, and want to follow the stories where they are. They should be supported in that.
While the EU has developed into a European construction over the past decades, media often choose a focus on national politicians, national target groups and national subjects. This neglects the reality of where European decisions are made, where international business is done, where criminal networks act. If we want to be good journalists in such a reality, we have to work across borders and think European or even global. The story then has to be told to the various national target groups in each their language and narrative tradition. We believe that this kind of journalism is an integral and essential part of democracy.
One means of supporting those journalists, who are ready to do this kind of reporting, are research grants. This has been proven in a few projects, two of the most experienced in Europe are the Belgian Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism (since 1998) and the Danish & Eastern European Scoop project (since 2003). The Pascal Decroos Fund started in 2009 a research grant project to allow journalists to improve the quality of their European stories.
This support structure is called the European Cross-border Grants programme (*) and journalists can apply for research grants, if they have ideas for European affairs stories or cross-border stories. The project has met quite some interest, numerous high-quality story applications have been submitted, and the jury had to reject many good ideas. It was very clear, that journalists are eager to do this kind of stories but need to cover extra costs for travelling, translations and other things that occur when doing this type of research.
The funding so far has been granted via a Norwegian and a US foundation as well as via the Pascal Decroos Fund, which is supported by the Flemish government. A seminar on access to information has been supported by the European Journalism Centre. Information about our donors is on the website.
However there are many more good stories that we have not been able to support. The Fund has for some years now argued for public service support to investigative journalism. When the notion of public service was introduced decades ago to make radio and television possible that happened because these two media were considered important in a democratic society but too expensive to carry out without support. Equally today one can argue that investigative journalism fulfills the same two criteria.
Or course such a debate also has to be considered in the European Parliament, which last year has introduced a pilot project to support investigative journalism across borders in Europe. We find this an excellent idea. Hajo Friedrich asked, whether we had been in touch with MEPs in that case – and yes, of course we have. As described above, we argued in favour of the notion of public service for this type of journalism on European affairs and cross-border issues.
The work of the MEPs has now born fruit and 1,5 million Euro have been allocated to a pilot project for investigative journalism.
Hajo Friedrich asked if we had been in touch with the European Commission. Well – DG Communication has been in touch with us. The Commission asked The Pascal Decroos Fund for advice on how to compose the Expert group that has been invited to advise the Commission on how to organise the pilot project. We suggested the names of two highly respected colleagues, who do international research journalism, and who were so kind to accept. The Commission invited them both into the group. None of them have any affiliations or engagements with The Pascal Decroos Fund, and the Commission raised our attention to any possible conflict of interest considerations in case The Pascal Decroos Fund or the suggested colleagues at a later point would consider participating in a public tender.
And yes (to another of Hajo Friedrichs questions), The Pascal Decroos Fund does participate in the tender to administrate the research grants in the pilot project. In our team we pool the experience in giving this type of research grants. We believe we have good experience and insight into how to manage this kind of support to journalists. Also we have a good reputation and strong credibility, which is absolutely crucial for this type of new projects, particularly when they are new. We also believe that the money should come without any strings attached safeguarding the editorial independence and editorial confidentiality. However we are pretty sure that we are only one among several bidders, which is the usual procedure, and we are currently awaiting the decision by the Commission.
Hajo Friedrich touches further upon the idea of funding quality journalism in the future. This has been a debate for years and various efforts are put into it. We believe that new models will evolve, though it currently is hard to point into one direction or another – these are times of change. Supporting individual journalists, who have good ideas, rather than supporting large media structures is the way, we have chosen to go right now. We believe, that this can give a stimulus to further quality journalism that looks across national borders and makes it possible to address issues outside the usual day-to-day work, that many individual journalists do – and where they do find stories, that need more time and effort.
As to the idea of a European Institute for Investigative Journalism, we have not looked thoroughly into neither needs nor options. We are very open to the idea and are gladly looking forward to continuing these considerations in the months and years to come with other relevant players.
(*) In 2009 this programme was still called the "European Fund for Investigative Journalism" and was run by the non-profit organisation "The Pascal Decroos Fund". In January 2013 we changed the name of the organisation to Journalismfund.eu and the working grant programme "European Fund for Investigative Journalism" to "European Cross-Border Grants". We kept the name "The Pascal Decroos Fund", but it became a grant programme.