Australian billionaire to spend $72M on journalism institute

SYDNEY, Australia – A billionaire Australian philanthropist vowed Wednesday, November 28,  to spend at least $72 million of her fortune to create a journalism institute committed to "the pursuit of truth".

Judith Neilson said the Sydney-based institute would "celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia and the world" at a time of "massive change" and challenges for the news media.

"Journalism doesn't just need critics, it needs champions – people and institutions with the resources to help educate, encourage and connect journalists and their audience in pursuit of excellence," she said.

The Zimbabwe-born Neilson, a prominent patron of the arts in Sydney, said the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas would run educational programs and events and provide grants for the development of independent, non-partisan reporting.

Neilson said one of the first priorities of the organization once it is formally launched in 2019 would be to support more "informed, intelligent" reporting on Asia.

"Through targeted funding and education we can strengthen Australian journalism and help restore faith in its central role in a healthy democracy," she said in a statement.

"As an avid consumer of news, I recognize the need to support evidence-based journalism and the pursuit of truth in an increasingly complicated and confusing world."

News organizations in Australia have struggled in recent years with falling revenue and shrinking staff, as giants like Google and Facebook dominate the digital economy.

Neilson's announcement came the day after an Australian court gave final approval to the biggest media merger in the country's history, prompting new concerns for the future on independent journalism.

The takeover of Fairfax Media, Australia's oldest newspaper group, by television broadcaster Nine Entertainment, is widely expected to lead to further cutbacks in newsrooms.

The merger left only 4 major media companies in Australia, dominated by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Neilson's fortune is estimated at around $1.1 billion by Forbes, built through property investments and her holdings in international equities firm Platinum Asset Management. –