Politicized Funds
28 March, 2013
Today we have a sea of registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia. Yet, the reader will agree that actually, only the slim percentage is functioning. Few NGOs, which depend on foundations and business circles, have managed to find respective niches and perpetual funding from various donors. It goes for years. I won’t continue.
The budding NGOs run virtually no chance of surviving in Georgia today. To my observation, foundations support almost entirely the same cohort of NGOs with an established
history of activities. By the look of it, the foundations have a sound argument. They trust experienced organizations. On the other hand, political taste is also felt. It’s hard to give a particular example but anybody who is conversant with this sphere will promptly guess what I mean.

Now I would like to focus on journalistic NGOs. Anyone who has ever cared to give a passing notice to the latest history of the civil society sector, must have observed that most of the representatives of the journalistic NGOs working in the sector for the last 10-15 years, have moved to politics. Althogh, there are exceptions. Some of the seasoned professionals continue upholding the cause in the civil society sector. Yet, at a closer observation, one cannot but make out their sticky association with politics. It’s a pitiful fact that a politicized journalist and his or her NGO today is in the better position to get funding from donors than those who really try to bring a worthwhile benefit to the journalism these days. Maybe there is nothing special about it but those foundations that permanently fund same NGOs make me wonder about them.

Let me give you a simple example. For years journalistic organizations used to get grants in order to devise norms of journalistic ethics. Some of them happened to do the right job yet consistently failed to realize them. I recall a rather large meeting organized by the Liberty Institute (then a casual NGO, i.e. before its leaders entered the government) with a donor funding, which took place at the Sheraton Metekhi Palace. In doing so, the Institute tried to promote its version of Ethics Code. I don’t really think that this version has left even a minuscule of a hallmark. In 2000, i.e. earlier then the above said meeting, the only organization that managed to elaborate the Ethics Code for journalists without outside funding, using its own resources exclusively, was the Independent Association of Georgian Journalists (IAGJ). Published in Resonance newspaper, this document came as a result of comprehensive benchmarking of experience of many advanced countries in this sphere. Today IAGJ is the only member of International Federation of Journalists in Georgia. Even though the Code by IAGJ has not been extensively practiced in the country, many representatives of civil society sector were reporting using it as the sort of a reference.

At least now, when the Government has changed, we hope that the donors will give their financial support to those NGOs as well (whatever their previous experience) which really mean the business and stand to give a boost to the development of the fourth branch of power, and they do so without differentiating the applicants by their alleged political affiliations.

I am afraid that when funding goes to the same NGOs all the time, something like a clannish system will be formed eventually, where constant cohabitation with political currents tempts the grantees to jump to them. Certain donors are inside these currents by default. So, what we get in the end is the deterioration of not just journalistic quality but also the effectiveness of entire civil society sector.
Development of civil society sector does not depend on the capabilities of its creators or founders or on intellectual shrewdness of a particular person. Rather, it is improvement of environment as a foundation for the construction of country’s civil society sector that should matter above all. And here one of the most significant factors is a vision of a donor on par with their financial power.