The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has announced grants totaling $6.5 million from the Democracy Fund, First Look Media, and the Charles Koch Foundation in support of efforts to defend the freedoms of speech and the press.
The commitments over five years include general operating support totaling $3.25 million from the Democracy Fund and First Look Media, both part of the Omidyar Group, and $3.25 million from the Koch Foundation to endow the institute's litigation program. The latter will be matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which previously committed to provide the institute with $25 million in endowment funding to be matched by Columbia University or other sources.
Established by the Knight Foundation and Columbia in 2016, the institute seeks to address challenges and develop twenty-first-century approaches to protecting the First Amendment, with a focus on bolstering legal frameworks for government transparency, reviving the amendment as a constraint on government surveillance, and protecting the integrity and vitality of public discourse. Over the past year, the institute has developed a litigation docket, launched a research program, and hosted public programs that have featured thinkers at the intersection of law, journalism, and technology.
Over the next year, the institute will expand its litigation docket, which currently includes a landmark lawsuit regarding government censorship of social media, a challenge to the Department of Justice's refusal to disclose legal memos that constitute the binding law of the executive branch, and an effort to shed light on border agents' practice of searching travelers' laptops and cellphones. It also will publish essays on the regulation of social media, antitrust, intermediary liability, over-classification, and the press clause as part of its Emerging Threats series and will co-host a symposium on "Free Speech in an Age of Inequality."
"The freedoms of speech and the press are under extraordinary stress right now," said Knight Institute executive director Jameel Jaffer. "The privatization of the public square, the emergence of new technologies of disinformation and suppression, the expansion of the surveillance state, the steady creep of government secrecy, the draconian treatment of whistleblowers, the demonization of the media by the nation's most senior officials — all of these present urgent threats to First Amendment freedoms. These new resources will enable us to confront these threats with new vigor."