Legal Defense Fund

Target group

Media professionals and media outlets which are at legal risk as a direct result of their profession

Other stakeholders

Free Press Unlimited's local partner organisations; member organisations of the Journalists in Distress (JID) Network

Country Partners Budget Duration
Worldwide Free Press Unlimited works with several media support partners in various countries to provide legal support 670.000 EUR October 2018 until December 2020
Theory of Change Themes Donor
Intermediate Outcome 1 Conflict, Safety of journalists Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs


In many countries worldwide journalists are being prosecuted or imprisoned for reporting the news. Almost anywhere in the world, journalists and media are subjected to growing judicial harassment. Prosecutions, long-running lawsuits, and imprisonment are part of the abusive judicial proceedings designed to silence reporters and media houses and drain them of financial resources. Therefore, Free Press Unlimited established the Legal Defense Fund in October 2018. The fund provides financial assistance, for example for a lawyer of court costs. This way, journalists will not be forced to withdraw their defense and accept the consequences of, often false, accusations. Next to the assistance offered directly by Free Press Unlimited, a number of local partnerships have been established so that media professionals and media organisations can easily access legal support locally.

This case will focus on the project period which started on October 2018 until March 2020 (18 months).

Overall objective

To ensure that journalists are not hindered in carrying out their work due to legal threats

Intended outcomes

Intended outcome 1: Media professionals have increased access to legal assistance.

  • Intended output 1.1: A legal support fund is established that coordinates its actions with international assistance providers.
  • Intended output 1.2: Media professionals have access to legal support.
  • Intended output 1.3: Local legal support networks are established and strengthened.


  • Financial support to media professionals and media outlets (funds for lawyer fees, legal expertise and other legal costs)
  • Financial support to partner and family of the media professional
  • Advice and referrals to legal experts, safety resources, and other support organisations
  • Preventative measures (such as a pre-publication analysis)
  • Prison support
  • Trial monitoring

Achieved outputs

  • Achieved output 1.1: A legal support fund is established that coordinates its actions with international assistance providers. Cases are coordinated and vetted through the Journalists in Distress (JID) Network. Through the JID network, assistance is coordinated on a daily basis between the various (emergency) support programmes of international organisations. Free Press is co-coordinating the JID Network. Free Press Unlimited also works closely with Dutch embassies in providing emergency support and legal support to media professionals.
  • Achieved output 1.2: In 2019 68 applications were received, out of which 50 cases were supported. In 2020, at the moment of writing (5 August 2020), 60 applications have been received, out of which 44 cases were supported. Through our local partnerships, in 2019 support has been given to 145 cases by local partner organisations based in Asia, Europe, the MENA, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
    Next to providing small grants to journalists in distress, Free Press Unlimited also provided support to a number of different strategic litigation cases. Through strategic litigation, the aim is to use the legal procedure for broader interests rather than solely for a particular individual case. 8 strategic litigation cases were supported with a legal support grant and will be monitored closely for possible further assistance. The strategic litigation proceedings address a variety of issues, including libel and defamation, the responsibility of states in protecting the safety of journalists, and the protection and security of data. In addition, until 31 August 2019, Free Press Unlimited made two larger strategic litigation grants available. 
  • Achieved output 1.3: Local legal support networks have been established or strengthened. In order to build more sustainable legal support mechanisms on the ground, Free Press Unlimited established a small grants system within the Legal Defense Fund. Local organisations can apply for a capacity development grant which contributes to the development of local legal support mechanisms for media professionals and media organizations. Up until March 2020, Free Press Unlimited has supported capacity development initiatives ranging from media law training to the development of legal hygiene toolkits. Furthermore, the project team also participated in and initiated several meetings in order to connect with other legal aid providers and to explore available resources and tools for the legal defense of media professionals. Finally, Free Press Unlimited established 15 partnerships with local rights CSOs to provide legal support locally.

Achieved outcomes

The main outcome is that media professionals now have increased access to legal assistance. At the moment of writing (5 August 2020), Free Press Unlimited has supported 94 individual media professionals with costly and lengthy legal procedures since the establishment of the Legal Defense Fund. Furthermore, several pilot capacity-building projects were initiated so that more sustainable legal support mechanisms on the ground could be established. This support was badly needed, since many international assistance organisations are limited by severe financial constraints, resulting in only one-off, basic, and limited supported to journalists in distress.