There’s much to love about Denmark – even more so for Ukraine, which has been one of the major beneficiaries of the Scandinavian nation’s generosity in promoting democracy-building programs (including news media development) in Ukraine.
Denmark remains one of the few nations in the world to give the United Nations-recommended 0.7 percent of its annual gross domestic projects to help spread democratic values around the world.
Fortunately, the Danish Ministry of Foreign affairs through Danida – its foreign aid arm – has since 2013 supported a media-development program called MYMEDIA, of which I am a part. I and colleague Olga Rudenko have served as part-time regional coordinators of the Objective investigative reporting program, one of MYMEDIA’s projects. Here’s the MYMEDIA website.
Another colleague, Daryna Shevchenko, is the full-time executive director of the non-profit Media Development Foundation, affiliated with the Kyiv Post. It has received MYMEDIA grants. Among other activities, including conferences and training, the organization placed hundreds of Ukrainian student journalists and young professionals in newsrooms for internships and exchanges.
The Objective investigative reporting project is a small part of MYMEDIA, which operates in seven nations and, besides investigative reporting, is involved in conferences, exchanges, documentaries, publishing books and on and on.
These include reporting from the war front and Russian-occupied Crimea, the Kyiv Post’s Oligarch Watch series, investigations by regional journalists into corruption around Ukraine and also in Moldova and Belarus.
The most famous investigation we helped is “From Ukraine With Cash,” the investigative TV program by Natalie Sedletska’s Schemes that exposed how easy it is for oligarchs to launder money in London real estate. The list of successful projects is long and the results are impressive, I believe, especially considering the money spent.
We had a few klinkers, but very few. Most grant recipients completed their investigations on time, within budget and with high quality. Nobody got rich here, but a lot of journalists got the extra time and a little extra money – the average project cost was in the range of $2,000 to $2,500 — to perform their vital watchdog role in this fledging democracy.
We spent the money without any scandal or corruption, with transparent results and a minimal amount of bureaucracy.
We had hoped that the program would continue for another 3-4 years, but MYMEDIA – including Objective — are finished at the end of the year. The loss of funding also ends some of the most promising programs of the Media Development Foundation, such as the student exchanges.
What happened and why?
That’s what we’d like to know. Despite routine visits by the Danish government to review our progress and positive feedback that we received after each check-up, the Danish government is not explaining anything, at least that I can find.
Late last month, NIRAS, a Copenhagen-based private consultancy that administers the MYMEDIA program, told us that the Danish government would not be holding a competitive tender – or any tender at all – on whether the media-support program should continue that supports Objective, the Media Development Foundation and hundreds of other journalists as well.
These are worthy organizations in their own right. However, the decision came as a surprise – for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it was made without any transparency or any competition. It was just presented as a done deal.
Competition and transparency are part of the values that the Danish government and its people hold in high esteem. And they are part of the values that the Danes are trying to impart in these democracy-support programs. Denmark is, after all, one of the least corrupt and happiest nations in the world by all surveys. There’s a huge correlation between those two conditions.
So this month, the Objective project ends. I and Rudenko are scrambling to get grantees to finish the rest of the investigations under way. We will edit, translate, publish, file the paperwork and provide a final analysis and summary of our achievements and what we could have done better.
We’ll do all that, but I also hope the Danish government re-examines its decision and finds a way to more broadly help news media in Ukraine – including saving Objective.
Unfortunately, the media market in Ukraine is not self-sufficient and won’t be for a long time.
Media organizations are either owned by oligarchs and completely dependent on them – with all the strings attached. Or media organizations have to go begging for donations from governments or non-profit organizations, such as the Soros Foundation.
I have been on both ends of the equation. I’ve worked for an organization that doled out many millions of dollars in grants. It’s a lot more fun. But, in reality, the decision-making process is not purely scientific or failsafe.
Now I am on the other end – the asking and hopefully receiving end. It’s a lot less pleasant.
As someone who is too often hunting for cash nowadays to make ends meet and avoid laying off journalists, I can tell you it’s not easy trying to figure out what the donor network wants and how to win approval of a project. Too often, it seems, it comes down to whether they like you and what you do – and that, obviously, has cut both ways for us.
The Kyiv Post is proudly one of the few news organizations that tries to pay its own way. Most of our money comes from advertising, subscriptions and events. But it’s still not enough, so publisher Mohammad Zahoor steps in with a regular subsidy and we do rely on grants.
To get those grants, we’d like to be able to compete for them, not just have them handed out through some opaque process that cuts us out, especially by one of the most democratic governments in the world.
Obviously, I have a great self-interest in seeing that MYMEDIA, Objective and the Media Development Foundation live – but I also believe they are in the public interest as well.
Whatever their fate, we will always appreciate the support in the last three years that helped journalists in this nation meet the extraordinary demands of revolution and war, economic hardship and political uncertainty.
This is the time of year to count blessings, and such programs by a wealthy and generous nation of Danish taxpayers are certainly among them.