The news media is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate, meaning it’s an influential institution within our society despite not being part of our political system.
But looking at current trends—from the proliferation of misinformation and “fake news,” to the rise of “filter bubbles,” to threats directed at journalists—it seems that the vitality and freedoms of this institution are under threat.
With lack of trust in media has come a fall in trust in traditional institutions in general—in 2018, a survey of American citizens’ level of trust in institutions recorded its largest single-year drop in history.
Thankfully, there are organizations who have made it their mission to protect and strengthen the free press and public discourse. If you’re looking for a way to strengthen the ability of journalists and individuals to speak out against established interests, these five charities are a great place to start:
Initially formed in 1981 with the goal of protecting journalists working in Latin America from threats of kidnapping and violence from government and military groups, CJFE has since expanded its mission to helping journalists around the world, monitoring global threats to freedom of expression and helping imprisoned and persecuted journalists wherever they may be.
CJFE intervenes in court cases, runs campaigns to raise awareness of free speech issues and participates in advocacy aimed at increasing and protecting press freedoms.
In addition to its advocacy work, CJFE also organizes the annual International Press Freedom Awards, which recognize the work of international journalists working under dangerous conditions, and operates the Journalists in Distress Fund, which provides emergency assistance to journalists whose lives or livelihoods have become endangered by external threats.
Despite the organization’s history and track record, CJFE—registered as a charity under the name “Canadian International Freedom of Expression Trust”—is currently experiencing what it calls an “unprecedented funding crisis.” The organization went as far as announcing recently that there was a “very real chance” that if it could not meet its recent fundraising goals, that it would not “survive through 2018.”
PEN Canada’s parent organization was founded almost a century ago to defend “poets, essayists and novelists” against “the many threats to [their] survival which the modern world poses,” including censorship, violence and political pressure.
The Canadian chapter was founded shortly afterward in 1926, and has since become one of the most active PEN subsidiaries in the world, acting as a national and international watchdog for freedom of expression and writers’ rights, and advocating for persecuted and imprisoned writers around the world.
In addition to supporting the currently imprisoned and exiled, PEN Canada also partners with Canadian universities to find work placements for journalists and writers who have found asylum in Canada through its Writers in Exile Network, and runs a variety of initiatives and campaigns aimed at spotlighting specific threats to freedom of journalistic expression.
Donors interested in becoming members of PEN can do so for an annual tax deductible donation of $75.
The BCCLA describes itself as one of the most active civil liberties groups in Canada, with a mandate to “preserve, defend, maintain and extend civil liberties and human rights” in Canada through advocacy, public policy, education and justice programs.
The BCCLA brings its substantial pro bono legal resources and talent to bear on issues affecting BC’s most vulnerable people—victims of poverty, homelessness, disability and discrimination. In recent years, the organization has fought for detainees in danger of deportation and torture, prisoners subjected to solitary confinement, and victims of police violence.
In addition to helping individuals, the organization has also fought book bans, challenged the legality of government surveillance activities that target Canadians, and advocated publicly against anti-terror legislation that infringe on civil liberties.
Because it offers all of its services free of charge, the BCCLA finds itself under constant pressure to keep costs down and find new sources funding. The charity claims to spend only 3% its budget on management and administration, a fact which it attributes to the talent and expertise of its volunteers and board, who work on an entirely pro bono, volunteer basis.
Political reporting isn’t the only kind of journalism that is threatened by misinformation and interference. The Canada-based World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) believes that accuracy and integrity in science journalism is as important to the healthy functioning of democracy as any kind of journalism. To this end, the WFSJ serves as a support network for 10,000 science and technology journalists on five continents while advocating for accurate, critical coverage of issues in “science and technology, environment, health and medicine, agriculture and related fields.”
Chief among the WFSJ’s activities is the annual World Conference of Science Journalists, which promotes open dialogue among science journalists around the world about best practices, helps journalists overcome challenges to effective and accurate science reportage, and creates mentorship opportunities for organization members.
Protecting and supporting free expression and good journalism at home and abroad is crucial. But the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also recognizes that the foundations of a strong free press, a robust civil discourse and a healthy public awareness of civil rights are laid long before someone decides to pursue a career as a journalist.
The CCLA’s Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust (CCLET) is a research and educational organization whose mandate is to increase awareness of civil liberties issues among Canadian students and educators from kindergarten to the graduate school level. The CCLET runs workshops and seminars in partnership with the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) at elementary and secondary schools and universities that aim to educate students about their individual rights and freedoms, while also working with educators to determine new ways to improve Canadian students’ civil rights education.