Judith Neilson commits $100m for journalism institute

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Literally like a white rabbit out of a hat, A$100 million has popped up to celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia.

Australian philanthropist and owner of Sydney's White Rabbit gallery Judith Neilson AM has announced a commitment of "at least $100 million" to create a world-leading journalism institute, to be known as the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas.

A building in the suburb of Chippendale is being renovated for use as a technology and media hub and events venue, and as the Institute's headquarters.

Judith Neilson says that while she will be its patron, she will play no direct role in the management or programmes of the institute, which will be independent and non-partisan.

The Neilson Institute's mission will be to celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia and the world through education and grants and by hosting lively events on the big issues of the day.

In a statement, she says Australian journalism needs "a shot in the arm".

"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.

"As an avid consumer of news, I recognise the need to support evidence-based journalism and the pursuit of truth in an increasingly complicated and confusing world. I am delighted to support the establishment of this Institute and I will look to experienced journalists and other experts to manage and guide its work."

She promises to use targetted funding and education to strengthen Australian journalism, "and help restore faith in its central role in a healthy democracy".

An early priority will be to support more reporting on Asia, and to help journalists engage more closely with their peers across the region. "Asia will increasingly be a source of breaking global news and there is a need for informed, intelligent reporting and commentary on the region.

"My hope is that this new Institute can play a role in preparing Australian journalists for an exciting but more complicated and challenging future," she said. "I also hope that we can develop expertise here in Australia that will help journalists from around the world to better understand what will be the most important geo-political and economic region in coming decades."

The institute is looking globally for key staff including an executive director, and is working on a programme of activities ahead of a formal launch next year.

It will be governed by a board of directors and supported by an international advisory council. The statement says it will aim to collaborate with existing journalism schools and news organisations and act as a venue for debate about how best to report on the region, as well as on the key policy issues facing Australia.

"I want to contribute to something that makes a lasting impact and I acknowledge this will require a significant and sustained commitment," Judith Neilson said.

The White Rabbit Gallery shows Judith Neilson's collection of contemporary Chinese art, considered to be one of the most significant in the world. She has previously supported research into innovative housing solutions at the University of NSW, and created the Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art there last year as well as endowing a scholarship at Sydney University.

She is the former wife of billionaire and ­investment banker Kerr Neilson, who founded fund manager Platinum Asset Management. The couple established the gallery - which holds two free exhibitions a year - in 2009.

Peter Coleman

Picture: Looking up - Judith Neilson has committed "at least $100 million" to create a world-leading journalism institute (photo Judith Neilson AM has announced a commitment of "at least $100 million" to create a world-leading journalism institute (picture Peter Braig)

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