Billionaire Judith Neilson’s millions could have been spent better, she says… but a spokesman has resisted admitting that’s a criticism.
The assessment of her now-shuttered Institute for Journalism and Ideas has emerged in comments by chief executive of the Judith Neilson Family Office Simon Freeman.
The Australian Financial Review’s Sam Buckingham-Jones quotes Freeman that the billionaire philanthropist believed funding directed towards mainstream media companies such as Nine and News Corp “could have been better used by smaller or grassroots publications”.
The lavish headquarters in Chippendale in inner Sydney is now closed and empty, remaining staff having left at the end of last month – and the website and social media presence gone.
But Neilson (pictured) still intends to spend a further $72 million to fulfil her pledge to spend at least $100 million on a centre for journalism.
A strategic review will reposition JNI with a greater focus on independent media, grassroots journalism, photojournalism, and “journalism that looks to serve underrepresented groups within Australia”, Freeman said.
But he said that the comments were “in no way a criticism of what has been achieved so far, but rather a view of where the biggest impact could be achieved”.
Problems began in mid 2022 after deep divisions about issues said to include a plan to develop a Nobel Prize-like award in her name.
Four independent directors – former NSW chief justice James Spigelman, Free TV chief executive Bridget Fair, editor-at-large at The Australian Paul Kelly, and former chief executive of the State Library Kate Torney resigned together last year, and executive director Mark Ryan also left, saying he was considering legal action.
The Australian Financial Review quoted documents filed with the charities’ regulator including the cost of the Chippendale property and about $28 million spent on grants, projects, conferences, speeches, communication, staff and operating expenses.
Simon Freeman said there was “no timeline on when a review of the institute would be finished”, but said Neilson maintained her $100 million pledge.
“Judith remains committed to that,” he said.