Raising money for media assistance – GFMD08

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Athens, Greece December 8, 2008

My long-time colleague and friend Manana Aslamazyan is leading a session on strategies for funding media assistance projects in the Former Soviet Union. She’s using the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) as an example.

I’m at the Global Forum for Media Development, nearly 400 people from around the world who work to support media in their own country or others, you can watch webcast here: http://gfmd.info/ or follow #GFMD08. Warning – liveblogging ahead, inaccuracies and typos guaranteed.

Oleg Panfilov, from the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations talks about Georgia (he is based in Moscow, but spends a lot of time in Moscow). He says there are many different layers in Georgian society: young, Western educated folks in power now and the layer of people who used to be in power who survive while the young guys were in college and between them are the journalists, who are closer to being in the older group, and how have an essentially post-Soviet attitude. He says journalism education is the key. Manana says “who will pay for it? Soros again?” Oleg is sitting next to Gordana Jankovic, head of Open Society Insitute’s (Soros) Network Media Program.

Manana – Donors funded education of journalism in our regions 15 years ago, why should they believe when we say we need it now?

Viktoria Syumar from Kyiv, says she agrees that we need new ideas. She’s says in Ukraine, having ended government censorship they now fight against “the censorship of money” that is news stories that are paid for, as PR. (Long one of my favorite themes in the development of the Western media, go Viktoria!) So she and Natalya Ligacheva (from Telekritika website) and others joined together and started monitoring the press.

Mamukha from Georgia says no amount of training can fix Georgian media because the big 3 channels are controlled by the government, and there is no transparency of media ownership

Manana-  says what about fundraising?

Viktoria – we started with no money, but soon enough people from a Western PR agency came to us and said they were interested in our project.

Manana – so if you have a good idea, and can get people to work together, just do it, and the money will come?

Ilim Karypbekov, from the Media Commissioner Institute from Kyrgyz Republic, asks is there any way for this group, this GFMD, to create with donors some kind of outside force that can influence the media magnates, oligarchs, who are ruining our media landscapes? General agreement that ex-Soviet millionaires are generally immune – though Natasha says Ukrainian oligarchs are in the metals trade, and could be influence from the outside.

Oleg Khomenok from Ukraine says the legal basis is important, not only for media but also for NGOs because too many countries’ tax legislation make it impossible for NGOs to do things that make money, which impedes them from becoming self-sustainable.

Mamukha from Georgia says transparency of media ownership is a problem, because Georgian TV controlled by government and there’s no way to know who the real owners are, so as to challenge them. Everyone agrees that it’s bad not to be able to have transparency, but it’s not a real barrier to working to support media we want to support.

Discussion about whether it’s ok to take money from the government for projects. Agreement that it’s very dangerous, too much corruption.

Oleg Khomenok (Ukraine) talks about the need for media literacy. Media work with people and advertisers both. We need to teach the audience how to know when they’re being lied to (meaning paid news) so that the market for such stuff goes away.

Manana – media literacy is important I agree but I worry that it’s a fad, we’re all going to submit projects on media literacy. Also, I think we have to talk about strategies including understanding what other NGO’s already do things better than you and collaborate with them.

I make my plea for people to pay attention to what the audience actually needs, not what journalists need or what media NGOs need.

Manana agrees that we need to think first about our real mission not about how to keep our organizations alive, ask Gordana Jankovic to speak.

Manana sums up says sadly I don’t think most of us will go to a website listing good projects (an idea that was raised, as it inevitably is in such forums). That’s why the GFMD is so vital – face to face discussion is really important.

Gordana, who’s one of the smartest media donors around, says she’s a little sad that there is so much attention here to fundraising, though of course she understands that it’s a huge problem for everyone. She’d like to see a group that is this diverse, with so many international and local organizations working on the same things and all competiing with each other, often the big ones swallowing the little ones. I’d like to see the media assistance sector work out some ethical standards, to structure itself as a sector and unfortunately I don’t see that in the program of this forum. But I know this session is on fundraising.

Working for an organization that is funded by one private person for 16 years, of course I have to take into account the interests of our founder (George Soros). Having participated in many many donors’ forums over the years, I think that projects that have real long-term trategies that take into account the political realities eventually get funded, but there’s still a problem for us as funders that we can’t fund the same organizations forever. Our organization wants to go global, we’re under pressure to work in new countries, so I’m often frustrated and even embarrassed in front of many of you in this room when I know you are doing important work and we can’t keep funding you.

But there are things you can do to help us – work together, come to us with coordinated proposals.

Manana tries to wrap up a fairly frustrating discussion. Meanwhile, Shorena Shaverdashvili, publisher of the Georgian magazine Hot Chocolate, pops up on Skype with the following:

Shorena Shaverdashvili – 5 of us in the “georgian media” are thinking of emigrating
Persephone Miel-where to?

Shorena Shaverdashvili – we are soo fustrasted! anywhere! out of here! it’s hopeless. the public broadcaster just started a new season and it’s unbelievable.  What causes desparation is that the quality of broadcasting is getting worse and worse. You should see the new programming on the 1st channel. It’s beyond commentary and they are dragging the whole media behind. There are only 2 options – you either completely disregard the tv media and try to work on your own audience and niche.

Meanwhile, a Western funder who kept her mouth shut is very frustrated. She says “isn’t it a no-brainer for these NGOs in each country to work together?” I say, yes, but the same could be said about American nonprofits in any field, no? Never mind academia! Sigh.

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