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Philanthropy has a role to play in funding NFP journalism

13 September 2021 at 4:37 pm
Luke Michael
Researchers say building relationships between the news media and philanthropic sectors is critical to enabling more public interest journalism funding

Luke Michael | 13 September 2021 at 4:37 pm


Philanthropy has a role to play in funding NFP journalism
13 September 2021 at 4:37 pm

Researchers say building relationships between the news media and philanthropic sectors is critical to enabling more public interest journalism funding

There is strong potential to grow philanthropic support for public interest journalism in Australia, but current charity and taxation laws are making it difficult for news providers to access funding, new research says.

A report from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) found there was a strong view among philanthropists and news media figures that philanthropy had a role to play in supporting the Australian journalism industry.

It said while a “small but growing” market of philanthropists already supported public interest journalism, many funders were unaware of the sustainability challenges faced by the news media sector.

And since news media organisations lacked experience engaging with philanthropists, they struggled to articulate public interest journalism’s social and civil benefits.

Researchers argued that regulatory constraints acted as a major barrier restricting giving in this space.

These challenges relate to how charitable purpose is defined in charity law and difficulties in organisations getting tax deductible gift recipient (DGR) status. 

The report noted that while there was scope to include public interest journalism within the charitable purpose of “advancing education” like in the UK and US, “the extent to which that can be done has not been fully tested in Australia”. 

There is also no defined DGR category that fits a charity that has a principal purpose to produce or support public interest journalism.

Advocates believe changing this is key to unlocking philanthropic funding for the industry.

“There was a clear view among media and philanthropic stakeholders that the most effective way of encouraging philanthropic funding would be to make it easier for not-for-profit public interest journalism producers to secure charitable and DGR status,” the report said.

Researchers said there was not a fixed or consistent view on how to achieve this, but there were several options, including extending existing charitable and DGR categories, or creating new ones. 

The PIJI report was prepared by Effective Philanthropy director Regina Hill, with guidance and support from PIJI’s Project Steering Group and Expert Research Panel.

Philanthropy Australia, Australian Communities Foundation and Pro Bono Australia were project partners.

Interviews were conducted with 37 people representing 41 organisations – nine prospective grant recipients and 32 funders.

Both media and philanthropic stakeholders noted a general lack of awareness within the philanthropic space of the financial challenges facing the news industry.

Interviewees also said news organisations struggled to understand the workings of the philanthropy sector.

“While organisations with DGR status have had some engagement with philanthropy, the media stakeholders noted that, as a general rule, news media organisations have often had no or only limited involvement with the philanthropic sector,” the report said. 

“As a result, the news media sector is not generally familiar with the way that funders work, or the time and effort involved in building and managing relationships or applying for, managing and acquitting grants.”

Researchers said building relationships between the news media and philanthropic sectors was critical to enabling more public interest journalism funding.

They believe this could be done by creating channels and networks to help broker relationships and connections between these sectors.

Overall, the report said there was a “very real and urgent sense” that philanthropy needed to protect quality public interest journalism, particularly in under-serviced regional markets. 

“It is clear that government, philanthropy and industry will need to work together to unlock that opportunity, and there are existing models for how that can be done,” the report said.  

You can see the full report here.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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