The Media Development Loan Fund


Sasa Vucinic and Patrice Schneider of MDLF, Prague. March 2007

In 30 years working in news media, I’ve never encountered a more beneficial cause than the Media Loan Development Fund. So, I’vebeen volunteering some of my consulrting time to it.

The idea behind the MDLF arose during the late 1980s when Yugoslavian broadcaster Sasa Vucinic watched freedom of the press almost evaporate in his country. He worked for B92, which was the independent radio station in Serbia and a thorn in the side of dictator Slobodan Milošević‘s regime. Unable to find a legal pretext to silence B92, the regime began threatening the radio station’s advertisers. B92 began running out of money and Vucinic was unable to find any bank, inside or outside of Serbia, that was willing to loan B92 money to keep operating.

Vucinic never forgot that experience (he gave an videotaped talk about it at the 2005 TED conference). In 1995, he approached billionaire George Soros, who himself grew up under a Communist regime in Hungary, about the idea of creating a foundation to loan money to independent media in countries that have repressive regimes. Soros agreed to setup the Media Development Loan Fund, which is based in Prague.

Vucinic’s first MDLF project was a newspaper that during the late 1990s was being forced by the Slovakian government to travel 400 kilometres to print the paper. The newspaper wanted to purchase a printing press, so MDLF loaned it the money. MDLF has since financed 135 projects for 58 independent media companies in 18 countries. When MDLF began, Soros didn’t think the foundation would ever see its loans repaid, but 97 percent of the 58 projects have repaid their loans on time.

In 1998, MDLF established the Center for Advanced Media-Prague (CAMP) in 1998 to introduce new-media concepts and solutions to independent media in the post-communist and developing countries. Earlier this year, Patrice Schneider, MDLF’s director of development and formerly the Managing Director of Netscape Europe and Deputy Managing Director of Hachette Filipacchi Media, asked several other international new media experts and I to advise MDLF and CAMP about coming changes in new media and new media technologies..

If you have a chance to help MDLF’s worthwhile cause, please do so.

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