Riga, Latvia, Sep. 22. – The U.S.-Baltic Foundation (USBF) today donated $10 000 to the newly created Baltic Center for Investi-gative Journalism (BCIJ) in Riga. USBF Board member Ints Silins, former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia, made the presentation to BCIJ Director Inga Springe.
This grant represents the Center’s initial operating funds and will be used to finance its first two research projects: an investigation of off-shore business and banking practices in the Baltic region; and an inquiry into Russia’s exercise of “soft power” in the Baltic states through financial support to non-governmental organizations.
USBF Chairwoman Maria Kivisild Ogrydziak said, “The USBF is pleased to support the Baltic Center for Inves-tigative Journalism because it fosters transparency and an informed public, prerequisites for an effective democracy. And we’re especially delighted that the Center will pursue research in Estonia and Lithuania as well as in Latvia.”
The Center is located at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Latvia but its board and cooperating journalists come from all three Baltic States. It will disseminate its output widely throughout the region, aiming to become a multi-lingual Baltic ProPublica.
Accepting the grant, the Center’s Founder and Director Inga Springe said, “Media outlets in Latvia and Lithuania were among the worst hit by the global economic crisis and became especially vulnerable to the influence of powerful political and business interests. This is a perfect moment to launch the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism to protect investigative reporting in the public interest.”
BCIJ Co-Founding Board member Kristina Rizga added, “The Center’s board is thrilled about our partnership with the USBF, which allows us to introduce a new not-for-profit journalism model in the Baltic countries. We hope this model will help increase the sort of intensive, long-term, cross-national collaborative efforts that produce great investigative journalism. As other pioneering models of not-for-profit journalism in the U.S. have shown, this model encourages collaboration among media professionals as well as sharing of innovative journalism practices such as crowd-sourcing, mapping and citizen reporting.”
The $10 000 represents funds that the USBF began collecting in 2004 when Board member Jaak Treiman conceived a project to establish an Investigative Reporting Prize for each of the Baltic States. “Driving that project,” said Mr. Treiman, “was our conviction that good investigative reporting won’t cure all of society’s ills but it can help, especially when it comes to uncovering government and business corruption. We believed it was a high priority for the Baltic States because during the Soviet era journalists were not expected to ask penetrating questions. They were conduits, passing on whatever was told to them – and to some extent that legacy seemed to be continuing.”
A number of individuals donated money to kick off the program but not enough to ensure its success. The funds have been held in trust waiting for an appropriate opportunity to further the Board’s and donors’ investigative reporting goals.
The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism is a not-for-profit organization based in Latvia that will generate long-term in-depth cross-border investigations of socially important issues, with a focus on corruption, crime, finances, entrepreneurship, health and human rights. The Center’s research aims to have a long-lasting impact on society and public officials, encouraging transparency and reform. The Center also seeks to inform the broader international audience about the Baltic region’s political, financial and social environment, as well as to bring innovative reporting practices to the region. The Center will launch its website in November 2011 and release its first major investigative project in February 2012.
The U.S.- Baltic Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to develop and strengthen ties between the people of the United States and the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Foundation’s programs emphasize the trans-Atlantic movement of people, ideas and resources to address cultural, economic, educational and political development needs in the three Baltic countries. USBF stresses collaboration with embassies and related organizations to leverage resources, reach and impact.
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