Archive for category Alternative funding of journalism

War profiteers unveiled

More than 130.000 people were killed during Yugoslav wars in the 1990ies. On the other side millions dollars of war profits have been earned with sending thousands tons of weapons and ammunition to the battlefields.

Last week the second book of the trilogy In the Name of the State was launched in the Slovene capital Ljubljana. It is called Resell and documents how the UN embargo against weapon sales during the Yugoslav wars was broken. The authors found leads to countries like Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia as export countries, logistic headquarters in the Austrian capital Vienna, financial transactions via a Hungarian bank and transfers via off-shore haven Panama. Also the United Kingdom sent military equipment to then Yugoslav republics and provided loans for arms purchases, as did Germany, the authors found based upon studies of thousands of declassified documents and cooperation with journalists in several countries. The access was obtained through the Slovene freedom of information act.

It is a widely accepted theory that Balkan nations are responsible for the bloody disintegration of the Yugoslav federation. But evidence presented in the books indicates that some European countries may have been actively involved in the wars with supplying arms and ammunition to the warring parties. The books describe in detail and based upon port reports, cables, receipts and various other official documents the routes of the weapons and the money.

More than a dozen of ships loaded with contraband arms secretly arrived to the Slovene port of Koper in 1991 and 1992, where they were unloaded and cargo was quickly forwarded to battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Military and civil intelligence services appear to have been involved in the clandestine operations according to signed and stamped documents, cables and orders obtained by the team. Also Italian, Albanian and Russian Mafia seem to be linked to some actions.

Along with his colleague Matej Šurc, Slovene journalist Blaz Zgaga spent more than three years investigating and analysing thousands of declassified official documents, that were obtained through the Slovene Freedom of Information Act. Journalists from six other countries cooperated in cross-border investigation.
The work already has lead to the award of the special investigative journalism diploma by the CEI SEEMO Award to the Zgaga-Šurc team.

In the trilogy of books the team meticulously describes the routes of smuggling and money transfers [Link to journalismfund article] as found in the released documents. During the recent Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev Zgaga provided further insights into research method and findings, many of which lead to other countries and invite to further research in those countries.

The first strategically important shipment arrived to Slovenia from Bulgaria in June 1991, only a week before the first military clashes in former Yugoslavia. The Danish vessel according to the information obtained appears to have been loaded with five thousand assault rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, and the most important, anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles, worth 7,8 million German marks. The shipper according to the documents obtained was Bulgarian and the middlemen an Austrian company. Almost simultaneously a British company sent modern military radio stations with encryption capabilities to Slovenia in a deal worth five million pounds, the team of journalists found.

After this success a main arms dealer stepped forward in the summer of 1991. The Greek citizen appears to have used a company registered in Panama with offices at Vienna airport as one of the main channels for smuggling arms to Yugoslav fronts. Debit-credit notes of a bank account opened at a bank in Budapest reveal the company received more than eighty million dollars revenues from Slovene, Croatian and Bosnian customers, according to the authors of the book.

The authors obtained documents that further link the arms trade during the embargo to a Polish state owned company, including the code name of the contact person and the alleged amounts of the transfers that indicate a Polish port as starting point for ex-Soviet army ammunition supplies’ journey to the Adriatic Sea.

The tale of the documents continues to focus on shipments from a Ukrainian port. The declassified documents reveal that the first two shipments passed through the Slovene port of Koper. The ship made two journeys and sailed 96 containers with arms in October and November 1992. All were transported to Croatia by roads. Debit-credit notes confirmed that 60 million dollars were paid by Croatian customers for arms obtained through this channel, and that about 40 millions dollars has been transferred further to sellers of arms.

The last ship of eight was halted by the NATO fleet in Adriatic in 1994, then a trial in Italian city of Turin followed, but all were later acquitted at the court. The obtained documents show that the person, whom the Turin prosecutor assumed to be the leader of the group, sold hundreds of Russian anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles worth 33,3 million dollars to Slovenia in 1991 and 1992. He offered even modern mobile anti-aircraft system SA-8 Gecko in January 1992, but this deal was cancelled. Several other Russian connections surfaced in the documents.

The first book in the trilogy was published by the Sanje publishing house in June 2011, the 2nd last week and the last will be published in the winter.

The book has been widely debated in Slovene media, where arms deals also surfaced on the political agenda involving the then prime minister as late as 2009.

A selection of the Slovene media picking up the story:






Slovenske Novice

Also EU-applicant neighbouring countries there was significant media coverage, including reports about new revelations in EU-candidate countries. Read more on the website of

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Cross-border story quoted widely

Two journalists, one story – but how to achieve impact? In the story about the Latvian Brides, cooperation of journalists from two countries led to research so thorough, that the story was quoted in various European countries.

Aleksandra Jolkina from Latvia and Jamie Smyth from Ireland have been researching the story of sham marriages in each their end of the EU. Latvian women were lured into marriages with non-EU males, in order to get them residence permits – possible under Irish and EU legislation. Some of the women experienced appalling abuse.

Last year they decided to cooperate. With the help of a research grant from they could cover the necessary travelling and other costs, to do the research.

“Working together enabled both of us to identify contacts in each other countries that would have been difficult or impossible to source while working on our own,” Jamie Smyth said about the cooperation, when he published the common research for an Irish target group in the Irish Times, where he is a staff writer.

The first publication was done for an Irish target group in the Irish Times in October, the second publication was done in book format for a Latvian target group recently.

Publication in Ireland:
Irish Times: Irelands sham marriage scam, Trapped in a sham marriage, Couple go to High Court with sham marriage decision, Comment: Ireland must take action to stop sham marriages

Publication in Latvia:
Book: Misis Eiropa, Pismieta Misis Eiropa (e-book), Misis Eiropa (order)

Book launch and book reviews in Latvia:
Latvian News Agency LETA,Newspaper Latvijas Avize, TV5 (in Russian), Newspaper Diena

Quotations of the story in other countries

Austria: ORF 

Poland: Rzeczpospolita

United Kingdom: BBC – Uncovering the Baltic Brides Sham, BBC – Latvia calls on Ireland to tackle sham

Germany: Süddeutsche Zeitung, Badische Zeitung, Eurasisches Magazin, Berliner Zeitung


Canada: CBC Radio

USA: Center for Investigative Reporting  

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€ 1.5 million postponed

The European Parliament allocated € 1,5 million to investigative journalism research grants in 2010 and 2011. However last week the money has been withdrawn following a long struggle about editorial independence and editorial confidentiality. But the MEPs behind the project vow to continue the work in 2011.
Read the rest of this entry »

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1,1 million euro to journalists

Journalists with a good idea for an investigative story with a European angle can now apply for research grants from the European Union. 1,1 million Euro will be distributed in two rounds of applications. The first deadline is on January 15th 2011.

The EU offers research grants for investigative stories, which involve two or more EU countries. Journalists with a good idea for a European or a cross-border story must team up with a colleague from at least one other EU country, find ¼ of the funding for their project and then they can apply.

The independence of the money will be safeguarded by an external “Assistance Body”. It will appoint a jury, maintain a website, administrate the grants and make sure that the experience from the projects is gathered.

A jury of “5-7 independent, reputed experts in journalism, investigative journalism and/or edition in those fields” will decide the awarding of the grants, following predefined rules.

The first round of applications has to be sent to the Commission, while the Assistance body is selected in a call for public tender. However the envelopes with the applications will not be opened by the Commission itself but handed over to the jury via the Assistance body once it is established.

The 1,1 million Euro were granted by the European Parliament as a pilot project, which is now scheduled to run until late 2011.  Among the involved MEPs behind the initiative were German green Helga Trüpel, Danish liberal Anne E. Jensen and since his election last year Danish liberal Morten Løkkegaard.


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Truly European journalism

Slave workers in Europe. Personal tragedies, evil masterminds, fear, violence  and threats to journalists. And European questions. All elements for a good story are there. Yet it took Adrian Mogos from Romania two years before he had finally published the story, he already had heard rumours about so long ago. The reason: There was no money for travelling, communication and the extra time that is necessary to do cross-border research.

Now at last the story is documented: Workers from Moldova are trafficked to the Czech Republic, where they work under slave like conditions, in this case picking asparagus. The organised crime structures behind appear to have caused  a trail of fear, which was what the team of journalists found whereever they looked.

Adrian Mogos decided to follow the story – across borders and against all obstacles – including the economic ones.  The research could finally be done in the course of 2009, because Mogos and his team got a research grant from the newly founded, which aims at supporting exactly this type of cross-border research.

Mogos and his team are not the only journalists, who face such problems. Even editors who support investigative and research intensive stories are often not willing (or do not have the budget) to pay for trips abroad, translations, long-distance calls and so on. While European integration has been evolving over the past decades, media still very much stick to their national focus.

Focusing on a national target group is crucial because of our different media traditions. Our readers simply are used to have their stories presented in one way,  that’s what they like. So that’s what they should get.

Yet the research should not be limited to stay within the national frontiers. When stories cross borders – like traffickers and their victims do, and like the vegetables do, that have been picked by the slave workers – then journalists must cooperate with colleagues across borders or travel themselves. Oftentimes networking is necessary because of the knowledge of each national situation. But networking ultimately also gives added value to the editors and publishers. If a team of reporters gathers good evidence each in the field or country, they know best, each of the editors will get more information through the added research to present to the readers. If the story then is published in several countries  around the same time, we are heading towards truly European journalism.

Time to get inspired to develop it further! tries to do that by making possible stories like the one about labour trafficking through research grants. The grants are distributed according to a set of criteria by an anonymous jury – in order to maintain full journalistic indepence, avoid interference and heighten credibility. The jury consists of highly estimated colleagues, whose identity will be disclosed after their term is over – and when there will be no more interest in trying to influence them one way or the other.

The funding so far has been granted by the freedom of speach foundation Fritt Ord in Norway and by the Media Programme of the Open Society Institute. The Network of European Foundations has kindly supported the idea. is a project by the Belgian Pascal
Decroos Fond.

Read more about the slave workers as well as the journalists’ report on how it was done.

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No more excuses

Journalists sometimes say, that oh yes, it would be no problem to do this fantastic story if just…. they had a bit of extra time for the research or if just…. they had a bit of extra money to meet with another colleague to cooperate on the research or if just….

For those journalists, who have a good story with relevance in Europe or in several European countries there is now a bit of help! supports cross-border research carried out by journalists from several European countries. gives individual research grants to small teams of journalists, who have a good story. A new call for applications is out today. This round € 20.000 are to be distributed.

Of course there are always two main questions: Where does the money come from, and what about editorial independence?

Well! is a project of the Belgian Pascal Decroos Fund, the FPD, which for ten years has given this type of research grants to journalists working on a story with relevance in Flanders. The FPD provides offices and other facilities.

The initial seed funding comes from the Norwegian freedom of speech foundation Fritt Ord

The current second level seed funding now comes from the Open Society Institute’s Media Program. Read about the funding for the research grants.

And the editorial independence?

Every time, money is granted to journalism, there must be a buffer to guarantee editorial independence. In this case we have chosen a combination of two elements. Journalists and investigative journalist organizations give their good reputation to by joining the advisory board. In addition we have a model with an anonymous jury.

The jury consists of four persons. They were selected in the spring of 2009 among a long-list of highly respected media persons gathered by the advisory board. In the spring of 2011 the first two members will leave the board and their names will be published then.

Are there any criteria and rules? Yes, there are. aims to fulfill the niche of covering stories that go across borders or have relevance in several European countries, se the rules for application and the assessment criteria, which the jury applies.

For other types of support for example on national level or outside the European Union and the European Economic Area have a look at our list of other journalism grants.

So now – no more excuses!

Get inspiration from our list of cross-border reporting projects and read more about alternative funding for journalism in our news section and in the archive.

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