Amidst a backdrop of the Leveson Inquiry, Salman Rushdie, Jon Snow, Paddy Ashdown and Sir Menzies Campbell have lent their support to a new charity promoting journalism as a force for democracy which launches today.
The Journalism Foundation boasts Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of the Independent and the London Evening Standard, as its chair of trustees and employs Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner as its chief executive. Former Guardian media editor Charlie Burgess is managing editor.
Speaking of its launch, Kelner said the Leveson Inquiry has seen the reputation of the press hit its lowest yet, but says the Foundation will act to bolster democracy when pressures have never weighed more heavily on the media's shoulders:
"Free journalism is under threat as never before. The financial pressure felt by media groups all over the world has meant two things: greater consolidation of ownership, and an imperative to drive down costs. And at the same time, the political reaction in Britain to the hacking scandal will probably result in tighter, and maybe even statutory, regulation.
"Yet in many ways, there has never been a better time for journalism, in all its guises. We live in much more open times: the access to once-classified information is greatly improved, and the methods of disseminating news are easier and cheaper.
"The Journalism Foundation has been established to add fuel to the engine of change in media. It is the brainchild of Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev, owners of [the Independent], for whom freedom of speech is a touchstone issue."
The Foundation, an independent charity, will fund and support projects internationally which "bolster democracy at a local or national level" and will offer support to individual freelance journalists and organisations alike. It launches supporting two projects - Pits n Pots independent Stoke-on-Trent blog and the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens, a Tunisian school providing practical courses for journalism.
The Foundation has garnered support from across the media and political arenas in the face of intense scrutiny of the media brought by the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking at the News of the World and other press organisations. Dozens of witnesses have publicy testified to harrassment and breach of privacy by the press and the press relationship with the public, police and politicians has been called to account.
Commenting of the launch of the Journalism Foundation, Lord Paddy Ashdown said: "Vibrant, courageous, challenging, uncomfortable, even at times irresponsible journalism is crucial to a healthy democracy. We all know now, thanks to the actions of a few, that there need to be new standards.
"But there is a real danger that the pendulum will swing too far and healthy journalism may be damaged in the process. Getting the balance right now is crucial. There could not be a better time for an organisation like this to be set up to ensure that we get this right, preserving, even strengthening what is best and rejecting what we all know now has been so bad."
Playwright Tom Stoppard, former newspaper editor Max Hastings, celebrated journalist John Pilger, MP Zac Goldsmith, writer and campaigner Jemima Khan and Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow are also among supporters for the Foundation.