The European Parliament allocated € 1,5 million to investigative journalism research grants in 2010 and 2011. However last week the money has been withdrawn following a long struggle about editorial independence and editorial confidentiality. But the MEPs behind the project vow to continue the work in 2011.
“The project has been delayed, because of difficulties in finding the right wording on the projects rules, but let me underline strongly that the pilot project is still on the table for 2011/12,” says Morten Løkkegaard, a Danish liberal member of the European Parliament. Løkkegaard has been coordinating the effort to support investigative journalism in Europe through research grants.
“The Commission needs more time to find the right framework, where the confidentiality of the journalist’s research plans can be upheld without interference from the Commission. This also goes for the assistance body’s independence in choosing the proposals. I look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Commission, who have given the right signals and shown true interest in making this happen,” he says.
This year’s research grants now have been abandoned. However the fight for public service style support will go on, as the European Parliament has allocated further € 1,5 million for 2011/2012 in the recently passed budget. Apart from Morten Løkkegaard also Belgian conservative MEP Ivo Belet, German green MEP Helga Trüpel and in his own group Danish Anne E. Jensen have been working on the efforts to establish the option for journalists to work across borders.
There were two conflicting arguments in the preparations for the call, which could not be aligned to save the first € 1,5 million to European and cross-border journalism. The European Commission argued that it needed to be the body making the final decision on which journalist-teams could get the research grants, and that it needed information about editorial content. Otherwise the Commission could not fulfill the requirements of the EU auditing rules of the Financial Regulation. On the other side the MEPs and journalists in the projects expert group argued, that editorial confidentiality was absolutely crucial, and that models for independent funding for journalism already exist, for example in the various frameworks of public service broadcasters on national level.
In its letter to the bidders the Commission wrote that “on the basis of the continuous analysis of the conditions in which the pilot project would be organised (…) the Commission has come to the conclusion that the conditions for the success of the project are not fulfilled.” Thus the bid was cancelled weeks after the deadline and after offers for the tender had been prepared by several bidders.
The MEPs will continue the work in 2011. “”The struggle to secure public service funds for cross border investigative journalism goes on. The pilot project is a unique opportunity to contribute to the creation of a European public sphere,” says Løkkegaard.
Read more about the Pilot Project for Investigative Journalism here.