Prachatai denies funding by Soros foundation influences its news coverage

national August 21, 2016 01:00


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NEWS website Prachatai has defended the funding it receives from a foundation set up by controversial “financial wizard” George Soros, maintaining the relationship has not tarnished its reputation.

Prachatai director Chiranuch Premchaiporn told The Nation that the |alternative news outlet dealt with Soros’s Open Society Foundation rather than him individually. 
She said there was nothing new about Open Society funding Prachatai and the online media outlet had never concealed the origins of its funding, with the registered foundation clearly identifying Hungarian-American Soros as its founder.
The billionaire donor’s foundation has contributed to Prachatai an average of US$50,000 (Bt1.7 million) a year since 2005, according to Chiranuch. However, she said Open Society did not do so every year due to a foundation policy.
The “Soros Leaks”, a deluge of documents regarding Open Society disclosed online by American hacktivist website DCLeaks on August 13, revealed the impact of Soros’s money and the special interests he represents when meddling in different non-governmental organisations around the world. 
An article by the Bangkok-based New Atlas website suggested that the “grassroots activism” involving those NGOs may be driven by money and the hidden agenda of the donors. 
“In reality, for good or for bad, there is nothing grassroots about them. Money and special interests drive them, be it interests within a nation, or well beyond their borders,” said the article published last week. 
In Thailand, the article said, most opposition NGOs – the ones that go against the junta – are co-funded by Soros’ Open Society and the US National Endowment for Democracy.
Soros, who founded Open Society in 1993, was convicted of insider trading by European Court of Human Rights in 2002.
According to the leaks, Prachatai, the Thai Netizen Network, the Cross Cultural Foundation, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) have all received money from or have a direct association with Open Society.
The FCCT represents a collection of Western media organisations, including the BBC, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press.
The New Atlas article claimed that the FCCT had not clearly disclosed the source of its funding and Open Society funds and influences the club and other Western news agencies that are associated with it. 
Thai Netizen coordinator Arthit Suriyawongkul said the organisation had received funding only once from Open Society, in 2012, for the development of its website. 
“We also have other international donors and Open Society just supported us project by project,” he said.
Arthit said he considered Open Society a foundation and did not think its funding affected his organisation.
The FCCT denied it received financial support from Soros’s foundation.
“No financial support from outside at all. We have no financiers, none,” said FCCT president Dominic Faulder, who recently assumed the position.
“I have not read the [New Atlas] article but what I’m telling you is it is not true [regarding the FCCT],” he said.
Chiranuch told The Nation that Prachatai’s transparency and quality proved its credibility. 
She said people could judge Prachatai’s standing as a news provider for themselves, adding that it did not try to get people to think a particular way.
“Open Society is an institution with its own system and core values that match Prachatai’s mission,” she said.
Since 2004, when it was founded, Prachatai has wanted to be free from the interference of the state and corporations, according to Chiranuch. The website has sought funding sources that do not influence the way it works, she stressed.
Also, she pointed out, Prachatai has its own code of conduct forbidding it from receiving funding from a political body. The executive said she could not judge Soros, as she did not know him well enough to make that judgement. A person has many sides and people should not make judgements until finishing a fact-finding process, she said. 
“Some say Soros is a wise and good man. Others say he caused currency crises and many more [negative things],” she said.
Chiranuch said Prachatai’s donors were subject to a limit on how much they could fund, a process that curbed their influence on the website.
“It is our policy that each financier can contribute no more than 25 per cent of the [total donated] share so that none of our donors overshadow our organisation,” she said.