The rumor that “investigative journalist, Eastern European subtype” is slated for listing on the Red List of endangered species is probably exaggerated, but as our regular readers know, the conditions necessary to do deep, independent reporting on complex issues in our coverage region are sorely lacking in many countries. There are lots of reasons for this but lack of money must rank near the top, just below lack of interest on the part of profit-hungry media owners. So we were excited last fall when the European Commission announced it would make available 1.5 million euros for cross-border investigative journalism projects that could also include journalists from non-EU members. This sort of thing is right up our alley, so we hustled to draft a proposal and send out feelers to potential partners. We had what we thought was a great idea for a series of investigations, and the all-too-evident scarcity of real investigative reporting along the EU’s eastern rim we thought we make our proposal a sure thing for funding.
The fatal blow came, luckily for us, before we had gone through the lengthy, numbingly tedious process of writing up a full grant proposal (ancient China had nothing on the EU in the area of bureaucratic torments). Late last year the commission said it was ditching the project over “questions put by the potential candidates of the call for proposals and contacts with the initiators of the project.” What had happened was someone forgot to tell the commission about editorial independence, protection of sources, and a couple other basic journalism principles. The commission insisted that it alone would select the projects to be funded, and to do so it needed to see the applicants’ story ideas; in effect, the “publisher” would be taking crucial editorial decisions. Fortunately, the project initiators including Danish MEP Morten Løkkegaard say they will try again soon to resurrect the idea.