By Tony Yew
Follow the money Part 2
“It’s easy to invest in MDLF’s work, providing independent news businesses with the financing they need to hold governments to account, expose corruption and fight for justice for all.”
“Founded in 1995, MDLF is a New York-registered not-for-profit corporation with 501(c)(3) public charity status”
These two statements probably stands out the most in the MDLF website. Yet, it also claims to have returned millions in payment to investors.
In Malaysia, where MDLF claims there is no alternative ‘dissenting voices’ and that Independent news portals like Malaysiakini are ” Then, as now, the government tightly restricted newspapers, TV and radio resulting in self-censorship and very little dissent. Malaysiakini took advantage of laws that protect free speech online and used it to provide a whole new world of objective news and opinion. As the sole independent news source in the country….”
“Whatever method you choose, you can be sure that you will be helping leading journalists in emerging democracies develop financially sustainable news businesses, free from government control and political interference.”
So, with such ‘noble’ intentions, MDLF basically goes to a country listed on its scroll of “Media oppressed nations” and then dish out a million or two to these potential ‘voice of freedom’.
And all this seemingly not expecting any returns (don’t forget MDLF runs as Non-Profit organisation with Charity status).
In Singapore, TOC (The Online Citizen, I am sure would love to get some help from MDLF, but unfortunately due to legislation, any funding for an organisation deemed, I stand corrected, Political Association, is prohibited, and at best restricted to SGD5000, whilst it also must adhere to transparency laws by naming their staff and editorial personnel on their website) is an ‘alternative’ news site, and has recorded many hits.
I have met Leong Sze Hian of TOC, and must say that he has done his best to ensure that TOC does not open itself to government actions by following the rules set down for them (eventhough the goal posts keep changing). I am not 100% certain, but I could not find fabricated articles such as these on TOC.
So is is true then that there are angels (or demons, whichever side of the fence you are on) out there with millions to dish out just to give a dissenting voice to a Media Oppressed nation like Malaysia an alternative choice? Surely, it all points to that with MDLF, right?
Lets look back a little and chart the points where coincidental might just be intentional.
1999 – South East Asia Press Alliance provides a US100,000 Grant to Malaysiakini.com (someone was sacked in 1998, and more importantly a certain financial crisis hit the region and caused the Ringgit to lose significant value against the US Dollar, among others)
2001 – MDLF through CAMP (Technology arm of MDLF) PAID Malaysiakini RM188,000.00 for the development of an application. (Premesh Chandran in a statement in Mar 2001, revealed that CAMP – Centre for Advanced Media, Prague, paid Malaysiakini.com for the development of ADENGINE – Prem also refuted claims that the funds from CAMP or MDLF had in fact originated from George Soro’s Open Society Institute)
2002 – MDLF invetsed a further RM1.3 Million in Malaysiakini.com
WHO IS MDLF?
Having established their intentions, perhaps we should take a look at MDLF
Their deep pockets are because the following are the current source for funds;
Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
Calvert Social Investment Foundation
Foundation for Democracy and Media
Fritt Ord Foundation
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Open Society Institute
responsAbility Ventures I
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
Didn’t Premesh Chandran say that none of its funding was received from George Soros?
I have nothing against George Soros, but he was responsible for the 1998 currency crisis.
So, not only did he devalue our currency but he also gave money to Malaysiakini though another fund?
This is where you don’t have to be a genius to see where the line crosses and what it tells you.
A simple look at the board of Directors also point to a very telling sign.
Two members of the board are the current President and Executive Director of, you guessed it, Open Society Institute.
A closer look at the past members reveal a former General Counsel to Open Society Institute. In his homepage he is listed as “After several years at HRW, he combined his expertise in tax law, including not-for-profit and financial transactions law, and became the first General Counsel to the Open Society Institute, George Soros’ worldwide charitable foundation. In 1996 he joined the faculty of the Washington College of Law, American University, in Washington D.C., where he remains today”
My reading into this statement and the role of certain members of the board tells me something very different from what Premesh Chandran said.
I got in touch with the man who was accused of misinterpreting the revelation of Malaysiakini’s funding. He is Desi YL Chong (Chong Yen Loong). Desi as he is fondly known to journalist was then News Editor of Malaysiakini, and questioned the essence of the breaking news.
The source of funding of Malaysiakini was first carried in Far Eastern Economic Review, in its article ‘ Levelling the field’ in which it (also read here, here and here) pointed how George Soros was ‘helping’ independent media establish a foothold in Asian countries.
The storm that followed was concern enough that Open Society Institute issued a statement that clarified that it was not involved in direct funding of Malaysiakini. In the statement issued to then Managing Editor of FEER, Michael Vatikiotis, OSI had reiterated that it did not fund Malaysiakini directly or indirectly. It mentioned that it did however provided a stipend grant for an ‘advisor’ of the Committee to Protect Journalist that was with SEAPA. It ended with a statement that ‘no funding whatsoever has been extended from OSI through SEAPA to Malaysiakini’.
None indirectly? I wonder how it classifies funding to MDLF, which in turned provided much needed funds to Malaysiakini.
Desi, when asked about the entire episode, had wanted to know what my story was about, and when I pointed out to him that I merely wanted to state the obvious, in which Malaysiakini had indeed receive funds from abroad, he was adamant that if I should quote him, that this would appear.
“when I insisted that Malaysiakini practised clear and transparent reporting as it had demanded, the source of funding must be clarified after Far Eastern Economic Review’s story. However, one of my boss said that the funding was not classified as funding as it involved the ‘purchase’ of application that Malaysiakini was building. Back then when the currency crisis was in full blown, George Soros did not have many friends, and when it was later revealed that his Open Society had provided funds to MDLF, which in turn channeled money to Malaysiakini, that to me demands an explanation.”
And when demanded in a closed door meeting, Desi was given the reply that “if we were to go public, that would be the death of Malaysiakini”. In the aftermath, Desi was told that the only way for him to go forward was to leave Malaysiakini. He did agree to resign, but before submitting his letter of resignation, Prem Chandran had said that Desi had chose to ignore certain facts and his resignation was due to the fact that he (Desi) was unhappy over matters pertaining his pay package.
So, is it purely coincidental then that names such as SEAPA, OSI, MDLF should cross each other in the source of funding or is there more that meets the eye?
In 1998, the currency crisis was in full swing, along with that in the same year a certain high profile politician was removed from cabinet. In the years that followed, a certain ‘Independent news organisation’ was revealed to have received big sums of money from a charity organisation with Investors!!??
So is it purely coincidental that Malaysiakini’s media school should feature such personnel?
Malaysiakini has pride itself as an independent news source, but judging from its history and source of funding, it is anything but that.
So, have you noticed that your new media lecturer holds dear to an organisation such as Malaysiakini, enough to write this? (given that Malaysiakini is a subscription based portal, funny that only such articles appear to be accessible,huh?)
They say the proof is in the pudding, I guess for those who truly believe Malaysiakini is independent, then please ignore the fact that the founder of MDLF said this.
Sorry, but who gave Malaysiakini RM1.58million again?