In March 2020, journalists from Slidstvo.info, one of the leading Ukrainian investigative media, found themselves in hot water with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and a parliamentarian Oleksandr Dubinskyi. Anna Babinets, its Editor-in-Chief, was interrogated for sending an information request to Ukrainian member of parliament Dubinsky, a former anchor at 1+1 TV channel owned by an oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi and now allegedly Klomoiskyi’s close ally in parliament. Dubinsky accused Slidstvo.info of being a puppet of the US government and filed a criminal complaint for violation of privacy.
But apparently that’s not the only thing he did, as soon after a massive campaign against the team and its leader has started online. The investigators responded creatively turning the whole thing to their advantage.
As part of the attack against journalists, anonymous Telegram-channels (Telegram is one of the most popular platforms in Ukraine) affiliated with lawmaker Dubinski shared personal telephone numbers of four investigative journalists, including Slidstvo.Info’s leader Babinets.
Instead of ignoring the messages from bullies, Babinets together with Slidstvo team chose a different strategy. They’ve started sending their attackers the link to the organisation’s donation page on Patreon.сom.
Anna Babinets told The Fix that she received around 50 calls and messages from unknown people during the next day after her contacts had been published. “At some point, I decided to talk to those who were writing to me. After consulting my team, we decided to send them a link to Patreon in response to their message,” she said.
And the move seems logical as most of the bullies would accuse the team of working for the money of the foreign governments. “We received an audience that was potentially caring about how media finance themselves. We decided to use it”, says Anna.
Anna’s Facebook post about their response gained popularity stirring another wave of support. One week after Babinet’s contacts were published, Slidstvo’s amount of donations on Patreon increased by two thirds.
Slidstvo.info case is just another example of how media across different countries are being bullied by politicians for receiving donor funding. They are often accused of serving foreign governments interests. This narrative is especially popular in Russia and Hungary. Both countries are tightening the screws of independent media.
Nevertheless, as Slidstvo case shows such attacks from the government can actually have a different effect on the work of journalists. “Fortunately, there are very few real people who blame us for receiving foreign funding. On the contrary, in such times of attack, support for our work grows”, Babinets says.