The Serbian journalist Saša Vučinić got the idea for the Media Development Investment Fund (originally the Media Development Loan Fund) in 1996 while General Manager and Editor-in Chief of the Belgrade radio station B92 . Radio B92 broadcasted stories in opposition of the government of the then President of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević. In a still widely viewed Ted Talks published in 2006, Vučinić discusses the tactics of the Serbian government to shut down the radio station.
“Yeah, it was the usual cocktail: a little bit of threats, a little bit of friendly advice, a little bit of financial police, a little bit of text control, so you always have somebody who never leaves your office. But what they really do, which is very powerful, and that is what governments in the late ’90s started doing if they don’t like independent media companies — you know they threaten your advertisers. Once they threaten your advertisers, market forces are actually, you know, destroyed, and the advertisers do not want to come — no matter how much does it make sense for them — do not want to come and advertise. And you have a problem making ends meet. “
Vučinić went on to say the situation was survivable. It was for B92. The radio station is still in operation today in Serbia with its popularity increased since 1996. Vučinić understood the sustainable business platform B92 had to offer and this led him to develop Media Development Investment Fund to provide financial backing for media organizations that promote democracy operating from within oppressive governments, largely in developing countries. The Media Development Investment Fund has persisted as a nonprofit model defending against government oppression and atrocity since 1996.
For those readers too young to remember the Yugoslav Wars, Slobodan Milošević was eventually indicted by the UN Tribunal for war crimes including genocide in February 2002. He was charged with committing genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Among those charges he was being tried for the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. He died in a UN prison in 2006 while still on trial, under controversial circumstances; it was reported from natural causes.
Vučinić’s professional response to grave dangers independent media face, and how their challenges reflect potentially worse dangers to the citizens they write for, was that he focused on what were the organization’s financial and administrative weaknesses in order to keep business operations afloat while facing extreme political adversity. What remains unsettling about the “usual cocktail” of intimidation tactics Vučinić described B92 were up against is that its potency was supported by basic bureaucratic structure. Slobodan Milošević dictated a work environment for his administrative staff to encourage the viciousness factor be amped up; under his presidency, the civic, benevolent mission inherent to sound government lost its moral attachment to the people it was meant to serve and terror eventually reigned.
That all human populations are vulnerable to the ruins of chaos, in small to great degrees, is why recruiting visionaries with astute political minds to run administration is at par in importance to attracting high quality leaders to run program initiatives. There is nothing boring about portraying a cog with other cogs in an administrative wheel when you take into account cogs = people and among them persists the impact of human endeavor to do good or harm. Good systems flow and there are moments the real heroes of a social enterprise are working in the accounts payable department, getting the payments out to the food suppliers and airline companies to assist in a disaster relief effort, their efficiency in a crisis moment perhaps saving thousands of lives.
An obvious danger of isolating the administrative component of an organization with the label mediocrity is that the hierarchy between administration and program is not linear, the need for fluid infrastructure is critical and alive, not staid. Keeping in mind the wide ranging differences in salaries the majority of global workers endure often without complaint, to suggest the efforts of some over others is of lesser value as an emotional investment as well is truly a joyless proposition—and joylessness of this magnitude is one of the worst dangers a society can face. It is from real life situations fiction writers come up with concepts such as packs of zombies gone amok. Yet another reason freedom of the press, and the encouragement of dissenting opinions across ranks, is essential to a democratic society.
More recently, here in America, the federal government shutdown of 2013 had many troubling components to it from an operational standpoint. The complete and utter indifference to the many communities that depend on the federal government to function administratively, resulting in billions of dollars lost to the economy, stands out as a warning that a more resilient “bouncy” infrastructure needs to be put into place to protect government services from being vulnerable to unreasonable political maneuverings of public officials. Administration serves program and program serves the community, but eventually we all meet out on the streets and everybody knows it.
Saša Vučinić’s Ted Talk:
The Media Development Investment Fund website: