"[TV] Markíza's success should not become a graveyard of its humanity, friendship and love. It does not want to, nor should it, forget those for whom it was founded, to whom it owns everything, and from whom many need help. That is why the Markíza Foundation was set up," wrote Pavol Rusko, co-owner of the private Markíza TV station, in the Markíza Foundation's manifesto of late 1999.
Rusko's business instincts have served his foundation as well as they did his hugely popular station: During the less than two years since its start, the Markíza Foundation has collected 17 million Slovak crowns ($340,000), making it the fifth richest foundation in Slovakia.
But officials from some established foundations are suspicious of Markíza's charity activities. Pavol Demeš, a doyen of the Slovak NGO sector, said of Markíza that "this foundation devotes too much time to self-promotion [through TV Markíza]. There are other foundations in Slovakia worth promoting, and which are doing at least as good a job as the Markíza Foundation."
"They are not transparent enough, lack a strategy for donating money, and are aggressive in their own promotion," agreed the head of another domestic foundation, who asked not to be named.
According to Memo 98, an NGO devoted to monitoring the quality of TV news broadcasting in Slovakia, in the second half of 2000 TV Markíza spent twice as much time on charity-related news than either the public Slovak Television or another private channel, TV Luna. However, almost all of Markíza's charity air time focused on the activities of its namesake foundation.
Markíza Foundation spokesman Richard Bolješik explained that the TV station attracted viewers, and in turn donors to its charity activities. The foundation, he said, aimed to help those who fell through the cracks of the state system: orphans, the old, the poor and the sick.
"Companies approach the Markíza Foundation by themselves, we don't use any fundraising campaigns," said Bolješik. He said that his foundation's strategy was to have well-known TV Markíza figures on its board, faces who both attracted donors and gave the foundation greater credibility in the eyes of the public.
Demeš saw it differently, pointing to what he called "a certain conflict of interest - they should bring outsiders, independent personalities, onto their Board of Trustees." But companies that have made donations to Markíza Foundation say they have been happy with its work.
"We've had a very good experience [cooperating] with the Markíza Foundation," said Gabriela Fabianová of Quelle Bratislava, a branch of the German-based mail order service multinational. In the past 12 months, Quelle has donated 180,000 crowns ($3,600) to Markíza. "The foundation is able to address the public and promote a good image for a donor, unlike many others," said Fabianová. "We certainly hope to work with them again in the future."