How We Decided to Make our 2020 Holiday Donation

We’ve been discussing at VitalBriefing where to make a corporate donation for the holidays.

In part because I’m obsessed with a world that increasingly devalues the critical importance of fact-based information and in part because we’re a business based on journalistic principles, I set the parameters: Our contribution should be directed at an organisation dedicated to freedom of the press and/or safety of journalists and/or fighting censorship.

In my view, the issue of “information you can trust” and its impact on just and democratic governance, together with climate change, are two of the most urgent concerns for every person on the planet. And never in our lifetimes have the dangers been greater or the stakes higher.

According to the group we chose, nearly half the world’s population is denied access to free information, “knowledge that is essential for managing their lives…they are prevented from living in pluralist political systems in which factual truth serves as the basis for individual and collective choices.”

The candidate short-list was impressive:

The Committee to Protect Journalists: An invaluable, New York-based organisation with which I have many personal connections. It’s a wonderful group with a blue-chip board that has included David Schlesinger, the distinguished former editor-in-chief of Thomson Reuters and the current chairman of VitalBriefing’s International Advisory Board.

For more than three decades, CPJ has been defending and fighting for press freedom, shining the light on attacks on journalists and reporting on violations of press freedom around the world. It’s arguably the most influential voice defending the cause of essential journalism.

Index on Censorship: A young non-profit centred in London that “campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide,” publishing work by censored writers and artists and monitoring threats to free speech. Again, the personal connection was at work here: David Schlesinger is a trustee and the patrons include legendary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Michael Palin, Sir Tom Stoppard and Steve Coogan.

The group works in partnership with Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pen International, among others, and is a founding member of a global network that monitors censorship worldwide while defending writers and journalists and those persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. As David told me: “We are one of the only voices fighting for pure freedom of expression in the face of severe encroachments including in our beloved EU.”

Reporters without Borders: Based in Paris, this NGO maintains correspondents in 130 countries able to take on governments over media and internet statutes and standards, defending freedom of information and publishing a World Press Freedom Index used as an evaluation and advocacy tool by the World Bank and the UN Refugee Agency in allocating aid.

From a marketing perspective, I also admire the shrewd and effective video they launched in November with a simple, straightforward and pointed message: “Without independent journalism, this would be the news.” Take a look, and you’ll have the answer to why I used Kim Jong Un’s photo for this piece.

All these groups – and many others such as ProPublica and PolitiFact do vital work and are worthy of all the support they can get. In the end, our decision was based on a laughably practical criterion: Which group had branded holiday cards at the ready that we could use to send to our clients and friends to solicit support for a cause we consider indispensable? Surprisingly, only Reporters met that need.

Next year, for sure we’ll move earlier and send our own cards and share our modest wealth with another of these worthy groups. I hope you’ll consider doing the same now and in future. Given the results of Brexit, the lies, distortions, real fake news and misinformation driving Trumpublicanism, and attacks on honest journalism and journalists around the world, the need will become only more urgent.