Mission and vision

‘People deserve to know.’ All people are entitled to unbiased information. This enables them to assess their own living conditions and influence these. Freedom of the press and freedom of information are vital for gathering and spreading reliable, unbiased information.

Our mission is clear. Free Press Unlimited works to ensure that independent news and information are and remain available to people all over the world. Particularly in countries where there is little to no press freedom. By supporting local media professionals and journalists, we help people gain and keep access to the information they need to survive and develop.

This mission follows from our vision, which can be summed up with the statement: People deserve to know. Every individual has the right to objective, unbiased information. Without timely access to relevant and reliable information, it becomes difficult for people to clearly assess their situation – which means that they cannot make an informed decision. This gives them less influence over the course of their own lives.

Only when journalists are able to do their job safely, without being obstructed or intimidated, can they collect and share reliable and unbiased information. The media consequently play a crucial role when it comes to providing free and unrestricted access to information – information that people can use to develop as a human being, or to hold those in power accountable.

Our core values are:

  • Independent
  • Inspiring
  • Inventive
  • Dedicated
  • Tailored Approach

Our approach (and why we follow it)

Free Press Unlimited aims to give as many people as possible access to reliable information. This can be quite a challenge – particularly in countries that are ravaged by war or where the free press are muzzled. That is why we have given careful thought to how we can best achieve our objectives. We have developed a Theory of Change, which is embraced by every member of our organisation.

Of course, this is one question – what is the best strategy? – that we never really stop thinking about. Together with our partners, we monitor and thoroughly evaluate the progress that we make in our projects. We refer to our findings when accounting to our support base and donors. And wherever possible, we apply any lessons we have learned. This continuous process of assessment, accountability and improvement is called MEAL (Monitoring and Evaluation for Accountability and Learning).

In 2016, we started to implement both our Theory of Change and the new MEAL framework.

What is a Theory of Change?

Put simply, a Theory of Change answers the question: Which change do we wish to bring about, and how will we be achieving it? Free Press Unlimited’s Theory of Change is a living document. It points of departure – our mission – are always the same. But how we set about achieving this mission isn’t ‘set in stone’. After all, circumstances are constantly changing: regimes can become more oppressive over time; the local circumstances for journalists can deteriorate. And our strategies can change in response.

In 2016, we discussed our new Theory of Change with our local partners during a number of baseline workshops for ‘No News is Bad News’. During these 3- or 4-day programmes, we mapped out all our key points of departure. Do our partners identify with our views on the world around us? Which matters do they see differently, and what do they add? Do they agree with our analysis and our chosen strategy for change?

These workshops weren’t just for show, with local partners meekly nodding to each of our proposals. We work together with critical journalists and dedicated organisations, and also seek the input of civil society organisations like women’s movements. With partners like this, you can count on a vigorous and informative debate. That is why we are also very pleased that almost without exception, our partners nevertheless subscribed to our Theory of Change.

What is our Theory of Change?

To explain our Theory of Change, we need to go back to our ultimate objective: a diverse and professional information landscape, in which independent media organisations and journalists serve as drivers and catalysts for change in their society.

The important role of the media is often underestimated in the international development sector. But citizens and civil society organisations can only fight for social change if they are adequately informed. And when they are free to exchange information and ideas. But in many countries, freedom of speech and the right to information are precisely the two conditions that are in short supply.

If we want to help media organisations and journalists fulfil their vital role in society, three matters are of inestimable value:

  1. An enabling environment for the media is established, conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity.
  2. Media serve the interest of the public, and act as a watchdog on their behalf.
  3. Journalists and media-actors work professionally, and are effective and sustainable


These are, in a nutshell, the three conditions that local media need to satisfy if they are to fulfil their role in society. They are our ‘interim goals’, which we need to realise before we can start thinking about our ultimate objective. And of course, this raises the question: How can we bring them about? How can we get this process of change underway?


  • We advocate solid legislation that effectively guarantees the public’s right to information. We do this both in the Netherlands and abroad. And we teach our local partners how to influence the relevant policy in their own region or country.
  • Impunity perpetuates violence against journalists and leads to self-censorship. That is why we work to convince governments, politicians and civil servants – the police and the judiciary – of the crucial importance of press freedom and safe working conditions for journalists.
  • We lobby for legislation that provides scope for all sorts of media organisations, so that every segment of the population feels represented in the media landscape. These media organisations need to satisfy basic quality standards that are clear to everyone involved and citizens need to be able to hold them to account by lodging a complaint.
  • We bring media parties and civil society organisations together. The media are often distrusted as extensions of ‘the elite’. We want to restore trust. Citizens need to be confident that the media’s reporting is unbiased and reliable. And vice versa, the media need to be aware which information their audiences – and underrepresented groups in particular – require.
  • Media need to fulfil the role of watchdog. They hold policy-makers accountable for their actions, remind of their promises and expose abuses.
  • We support civil society organisations that work to make citizens ‘media-savvy’: the ability to assess to which extent the provided information is relevant and reliable.
  • The media need to reflect the diversity found in their society. That is why we encourage diversity in our partners’ own organisations and in their content – particularly when it comes to the representation of women.
  • Public confidence in the media is closely linked to their level of professionalism. That is why we train journalists and media organisations in the factual and conscientious coverage of news events, according to internationally-accepted standards and ethical codes. In addition, we help them to gain access to modern technology that can support them in their research and reporting and allows them to directly involve their target audiences.
  • And last but not least: safety has top priority in all our activities. We teach journalists and media companies how to protect themselves, their sources and their audience as effectively as possible, both online and in the physical world.

How do we measure the impact of our work? (MEAL)

Of course, we want to determine whether our approach is working. Are we achieving our objectives? That’s why we devote a lot of attention to using the best methods to measure the effects of our projects. So that together with our partners, we can draw new lessons from our findings and adapt our strategy as required.

Since 2016, we have been assessing our progress via two different methods. We use ‘indicators’ to systematically monitor our project results with respect to our key themes. For example, we check to which extent we and our partners are able to structure the organisation in such a way that both men and women feel comfortable working there. What makes these indicators particularly useful is that each time round, they measure a project’s impact according to the same standards and procedure.

But occasionally, this uniform approach can also be a drawback: you risk overlooking important, context-specific information. You can circumvent this by asking people who are directly involved to share their experiences. Their accounts are often far more effective sources of insight. That’s why in 2016, we launched a new pilot programme, in which we collect and analyse stories from people involved in our local projects. This method is called ‘Most Significant Change’ – after the key question we ask our respondents: “What is the most significant – positive or negative – change that you experienced and that resulted, in part, from this project?”

Since the MEAL framework itself is new, in late 2016 we also ordered an external review of this system. Are the MEAL measurements relevant? Do we need to make any adjustments? And is everyone able to use the system as intended? The conclusion for the time being is that MEAL needs to be embedded even more effectively within our organisation. We need a joint planning, in which MEAL is a natural, integral part of every project development process.

The indicators

While we work to achieve our mission, every year, we pause to ask ourselves a number of questions. We do this to measure our progress. Are we still on the right track? Or do we need to adjust course? We rely on three indicators to measure the current status in each of the three ‘interim goals’ set out in our Theory of Change.

We use the following questions to determine to which extent local media operate in an environment that is supportive and contributes to freedom of speech:

  1. Are civil society organisations able and willing to defend journalists and media organisations?
  2. How safe are journalists?
  3. How effectively are the media and the right to information protected by law?

We use the following questions to determine to which extent local media work in the public interest and serve as a watchdog in their society:

  1. Do the media hold those in power accountable for their actions?
  2. Are women and men given an equal amount of attention in the media?
  3. Are the media there for every section of the population and do they enjoy the public’s trust?


We use the following questions to determine to which extent local journalists and media organisations deliver professional, effective and sustainable results:

  1. Are the media able to effectively introduce (technical and substantive) innovations in their professional operations?
  2. Do the media have the expertise and strategic insight required for effective policy influencing?
  3. Are the media financially self-sufficient?

‘Most Significant Change’ stories

“I really stay on top of it nowadays,” says a radio manager in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I always ask my people to also gain women’s perspectives. Including when it’s about an ostensibly ‘male’ subject like the economy.”

Some time ago, we performed a detailed study of the media situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our partners systematically logged how much space was devoted to female perspectives in local newspaper columns and radio broadcasts. Now, we wanted to establish which effect these monitoring efforts have had. What have the local media organisations done with our conclusions and recommendations? To this end, our partner interviewed 24 radio managers and journalists in Kinshasa. Their accounts provided us with insights and information that wouldn’t have been brought to light via normal indicators.

In 2016, we organised three pilot programmes for local partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Iraq that trained them how to obtain ‘Most Significant Change’ stories from participants in their projects. Our partners proved as enthusiastic about this method of collecting information as we are. It enlivens the somewhat staid evaluation process: our joint impact is suddenly given a face and a context. In addition – and this is also quite important – these stories yield useful new insights that help our partners to organise their projects more effectively and fine-tune their strategy. The stories shed light on the intended and unforeseen effects of our work.

This is what we learned from Press Freedom 2.0

In 2016, we took stock of our results in Press Freedom 2.0: the alliance within the Dutch government’s second co-financing scheme (MFS II) for which we served as the main applicant. Our fellow alliance members were Mensen met een Missie, the European Journalism Centre (EJC), World Press Photo and the European Partnership for Democracy. For five years, we worked – with the financial support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – to strengthen local media organisations in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. We provided hundreds of existing and aspiring journalists with professional training. They stirred public debate about all kinds of subjects and held their governments accountable for issues like women’s rights and access to information. The Ministry has named a number of ‘telling examples of results achieved in the programme’, including MexicoLeaks and the introduction of media awareness as a subject in Bolivian schools.

One particularly valuable outcome of Press Freedom 2.0 were the close ties that were forged in a number of countries between the media, education programmes, local NGOs and community-based organisations. They will enjoy the rewards of these partnerships for many years to come. In addition, this has laid solid foundations for our new strategic partnership ‘No News is Bad News’, in which we actually work to encourage collaboration of this kind. We learned how to get a wide range of different parties to sit down together and agree on a common objective. But we also experienced just how indispensable solid risk analyses and scenario planning (“What should we do if…) are in countries where the freedom of the press regularly comes under pressure.

Our stakeholders

Financial independence is a prerequisite for impartial news coverage. That is why Free Press Unlimited continued to broaden its financial basis in 2016. After having already hired a second fundraising specialist who focuses on international private funds and major donors in October 2015, in March 2016, we added a fundraiser for private donors (our Friends).

Although in the beginning, building a relationship with new funds and donors requires sizeable investments, we can already report a number of positive results. Our success rate among international private funds has proven relatively high for a first year of fundraising: 26 percent of the 23 proposals submitted to these parties were approved for funding. These new funds mainly supported our programmes in Sudan and the whistle-blower platform Publeaks, although we also received a number of un-earmarked funds. The latter category remains very important for Free Press Unlimited, since we are unable to predict the course of some of our activities.

Long-term support

Around one-third of our programmes and projects over the next five years are possible thanks to the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, within our Strategic Partnership ‘No News is Bad News’. In November, the Swedish organisation Sida decided to provide our programme in Syria with funding support for a term of five years. And in 2016, another highly valued donor, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, once again pledged its support to our work for another five years, increasing their structural contribution.

We are delighted with this kind of long-term funding: it is of vital importance for the success of Free Press Unlimited’s mission. After all, it takes more than a few years to set up a durable independent information service and build public trust in the local media. Particularly in conflict area, this can easily take as much as a generation. We often try to ‘make ends meet’ by linking the different funding streams – individual project budgets – together to cover a long-term investment. However, in many cases, this process is quite difficult, and it furthermore takes a lot of time and energy. This is another reason why the confidence that these major donors have shown in us and our partners is of such tremendous value.

Our partners

Our key partners are local media organisations like Hromadske.tv and Bo Peshewa. It is only through partners like these that we can achieve solid, long-term results. That is why we structurally involve them in the development of our strategy and approach.

In 2016, we worked together with our partners in laying solid foundations for the implementation of ‘No News is Bad News’ in 13 of the 17 countries that we are active in. In addition, we formulated the objectives and strategies for our programme in Syria in consultation with our Syrian media partners.

“One of the media’s fundamental responsibilities is: Tell the public what is going on. Whether governments like it or not.” – Hromadske.tv, Ukraine

In September and October, Free Press Unlimited carried out a large-scale partner satisfaction survey. This was the first time we organised such a survey ourselves: previous surveys were handled by the sector organisation Partos in collaboration with the British consultancy Keystone. Although Free Press Unlimited scored very high in these polls, we nevertheless weren’t very satisfied with the results. Or rather: with the survey itself. In our view, the response rate – 17 percent – was too low to attach much importance to the conclusions. Now that we have initiated our own survey, we can report a response rate of over 40 percent. While we scored slightly lower in this survey, it has yielded a more realistic picture overall, with a number of clear learning points. For example, while our partners are generally satisfied about their relationship with Free Press Unlimited, many of them would like to receive more support when it comes to managing their organisation, monitoring and evaluation and securing funding. Free Press Unlimited has drawn up a plan of action on the basis of this feedback, and will be repeating this partner satisfaction survey every year to assess the progress made in this area.

Our donors

We are fortunate to have 2770 Friends of Free Press Unlimited, who help make our work possible. They are dedicated and critical individuals, and are not afraid to share their thoughts and occasionally help us hold a mirror to ourselves.

In 2016, we organised the first edition of the Friends Live event, which was filled to capacity. During this event, we invited our Friends ‘in our home’: offering them a guided tour of our offices, with a number of ‘pit stops’ during which we talked about our projects. One of the staff members of the new Russian-Language News Exchange offered a glimpse of the state of the media in today’s Russia. Why is Putin actually so popular in his own country? The editors of Radio Dabanga explained how they succeed in broadcasting independent news reports in Darfur. And the party was rounded off with a meal cooked up by The Syrian Chef. Our Friends’ responses were heart-warming and a welcome boost for Free Press Unlimited’s – occasionally too modest – staff members. We can be proud of our work, and of our loyal Friends. We look forward to welcoming them again next year, during Friends Live 2017.

Thank you for an inspiring evening, and good luck with your important work!” – A Friend of Free Press Unlimited

Countless other Dutch citizens also find our work deserving of their support. In 2016, we received a total of 54,000 in donations from private citizens – a 8,000 euros less than in 2015. This can be explained by the fact that in 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, we received a number of extra donations. . We are very grateful for their involvement with and financial support for our projects.

Support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery

In 2016, after a very favourable evaluation of our work, the Dutch Postcode Lottery once again decided to team up with Free Press Unlimited for another five-year term.

We are grateful to the 2.7 million people who take part in the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Through their participation, they help give people in countries like Bangladesh and Sudan access to reliable, unbiased information. In addition, the Dutch Postcode Lottyer organisation awarded Free Press Unlimited an un-earmarked contribution of € 900,000 in 2016.

Free Press Unlimited works to ensure that independent news and information are and remain available to people all over the world. Particularly in countries where there is little to no press freedom, or freedom in general.” – Margriet Schreuders, Head of Charities at the Dutch Postcode Lottery

In a nutshell, this is why the Dutch Postcode Lottery and major donors like the private fund Humanity United (part of the Omidyar Group) support our work. Their willingness to support our activities with funding, think along and collaborate with us is of vital importance for journalists and media organisations in fragile states.

Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund

Since 2009, the Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund has been enabling Dutch journalists to make unique international reportages. These reports consistently focus on important issues like the environment, human rights or people’s daily lives abroad. The Netherlands’ media organisations have less and less budget for foreign reports, most of the reports are made based on desk research. Thanks to the Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund, journalists can travel abroad and inform the Dutch public via the radio, television, the internet and print publications. The ongoing need for this funding is once again illustrated by the increased number of applications in the year under review: from 57 in 2015 to 72 in 2016. We awarded funding to a total of 27 trips, which yielded 25 publications in 2016 alone.

In 2016, the Dutch Nationale Postcode Lottery decided to continue supporting this important programme for another two years and increased the annual contribution to € 250,000 per year. It approved our request to expand the Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund’s scope to include investigative journalism productions. Starting in the second half of 2016, the fund will offer additional funding opportunities for in-depth, critical investigative reportages that include attention to women’s rights. The fund has already approved the first application in this field, and the two female journalists are currently on location. The results of their work will be published in the course of 2017. However, it did become clear from the details in the other five applications – which did not concern investigative reportages, strictly speaking – that we needed to clarify the funding criteria. We have since done this, and we presently expect to receive more relevant proposals.

Strategic Partnership

In 2016, we launched ‘No News is Bad News’, our new Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the next five years, we will be working together with the European Journalism Centre (EJC) to implement this programme in 17 countries – from Bangladesh to Somalia.

Our objective: to promote societies where independent media organisations and journalists form a diverse and professional information landscape and serve as drivers and catalysts for change. This objective explicitly goes beyond our mission to promote press freedom. We want to help media organisations and individual journalists to fulfil their vital role in society. The unbiased, reliable information they provide to the public is of crucial importance for citizens and civil society organisations who wish to influence the development of their communities (we refer you to our Theory of Change). For example, in 2016, we trained 16 Nepalese journalists in the basics of investigative journalism. Among other things, they learned how to produce well-researched stories about domestic violence and the trading of girls as ‘chattel’.

We also worked together with existing and prospective partners on the organisation of so-called baseline workshops – in 13 of the 17 countries we are active in. In the case of the other four, this is the first time we will be working in these countries – meaning that we needed more time to prepare. We will be holding the baseline workshops for these countries in 2017. In these baseline workshops, we lay the groundwork for our long-term collaboration with these local partners. We analyse the country’s existing media environment, examine which support our partners require in the context of their influencing activities and determine whether their organisations are ready to set to work on the new programme (we also refer you to our Theory of Change).

Sida to support our programme in Syria

Four years ago, Free Press Unlimited launched a new programme with a number of initiators from the Syrian media sector, in partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The objective: to create an atmosphere of ethical conduct, collaboration and trust between journalists and media organisations from a country that is ravaged by war and lacks a solid tradition of independent journalism.

When we took stock of the results so far in late May 2016, we could be proud of our work, and of our partners. No fewer than 41 media organisations have signed the ‘Ethical Charter for Syrian Media’. This step has demonstrably improved their reporting in terms of reliability, impartiality and critical analysis – crucial for winning the trust of the population, both in Syria itself and in the country’s diaspora. We didn’t limit ourselves to promoting this Ethical Charter, however. Free Press Unlimited has also set up a dedicated research and service centre: Mawared. In addition, we supported the establishment of the new Syrian Journalists Association (over 300 members at the end of May 2016).

We can now significantly expand this programme thanks to Sida’s long-term financial support. We will continue to train and counsel the five media organisations and three media institutes that we had already partnered with. In addition, we will extend our support to five newspapers, radio stations and television stations and two new media institutes. Free Press Unlimited will not only offer trainings in basic journalism skills, but also in the effective management of a professional media enterprise. We will be supporting the media institutes in the development of a durable, independent media community. So that Syrian journalists and media organisations can continue to provide Syrian audiences with the unbiased, reliable and balanced information they so desperately require.

Other governments in Europe and further afield also support Free Press Unlimited’s work. In addition to Sida, our key foreign donors are the European Union and the United States Department of State. Of all the project proposals that we submitted to institutional donors in 2016, 41 percent was approved for funding. In concrete terms, Free Press Unlimited raised over € 18,5 million in funds in the year under review.

Our audience

How do we get as many people as possible involved in our mission: defending the universal right to reliable information – wherever you live. Over the course of 2016 we reorganised and expanded our communication and fundraising department, to further hone our communications with our support base and the general public.

A number of new people joined the team: a marketing and fundraising specialist, a press officer and a colleague who will be handling online communications. In the year ahead, we will also be formulating a new communication strategy within the framework of Free Press Unlimited’s new long-term strategy. In 2016, we anticipated this development with a more distinctive positioning of our organisation and the further development of our house style. This gives the general public a clear idea of Free Press Unlimited’s ambitions and activities.

Free Press Unlimited wishes to make as many people as possible aware of the importance of press freedom. In 2016, the Dutch broadcasting organisation VARA presented the documentary series ‘De pen en het zwaard’ (‘The Pen and the Sword’), in which the journalist Fidan Ekiz showed the precarious existence of independent journalists, newspapers and television stations working in dictatorships and conflict areas. These documentaries were possible in part thanks to our support.


In 2016, Free Press Unlimited drew public attention to press freedom and how it regularly comes under fire – sometimes in the most literal sense – through two large-scale events.

On 3 May, we took part in the Festival of Free Speech, where we launched the annual Press Freedom Monitor in the sold-out venue of Amsterdam’s De Balie. This new annual monitor tracks the state of press freedom and safe working conditions for journalists in countries around the world. Free Press Unlimited pointed out that the freedom of the press is coming under increasing pressure within the EU too. We called on European governments to guarantee the independence of Europe’s media by law. The EU needs to explicitly require candidate members to safeguard press freedom, as well as enforce this requirement in existing member states.

Six months later, on 2 November, some 230 journalists, legislators and policy-makers came together in De Nieuwe Regentes in The Hague for the event Free Press Live 2016. In a panel discussion moderated by Twan Huys, journalists, legislators and policy-makers talked about impunity and growing violence against journalists. The attendees were particularly impressed by the accounts of Can Dündar and Javier Espinosa. Dündar, the former Editor-in-Chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, narrowly survived an assassination attempt and was sentenced to five years in prison for ‘leaking state secrets’. Espinosa, who works as a journalist for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, was held captive in Aleppo for over six months by ISIS.

We presented Free Press Awards to Klaas van Dijken (Best Foreign Reportage – made with the support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund), Hamid Mir (Most Resilient Journalist) and ‘Fisayo Soyombo (Newcomer of the Year). Free Press Unlimited Director Leon Willems’s call to match words with deeds was widely applauded: “Publishers and journalists: show solidarity, share stories and offer journalists protection. And let us all band together and establish an international fund for local journalists, so that they can work in safety and protect themselves. Governments: investigate, prosecute and punish violence against journalists. This is the only way we can break the cycle of impunity.”

Contact with our support base

This is how we stay in contact with our existing and potential supporters:

  • We regularly place informative advertisements in Villamedia, which is published by the Dutch journalists’ union NVJ, and sporadically in other publications like Broadcast Magazine.
  • Every month, we send out a Dutch-language email newsletter to over 4,000 subscribers, as an English-language version to over 500 subscribers. The latter group consists of a mix of foreign partners, donors, fellow alliance members and media organisations.
  • In 2016, we informed the recipients about our events, our Annual Report and the expanded scope of the Postcode Loterij Fund. We invited our subscribers to nominate candidates for the Awards that would be presented during Free Press Live. In addition, we invited the participants in our events to offer feedback.
  • In 2016, our supporters also participated in a number of campaigns. Among other things, they signed our petition against the new bill authorising large-scale wiretapping by the secret services (via data trawling).
  • People who make a one-off donation receive a paper newsletter by post twice a year. In this newsletter, we also ask them to make another donation or to become a Friend of Free Press Unlimited.
  • In a ‘paper’ survey among some 600 donors and Friends, we asked these supporters which Free Press Unlimited themes appealed most to them: journalism in conflict areas proved a particularly ‘popular’ focus area. In addition, we inquired about their interest in possible tax-exempt donations and bequests.
  • We don’t rely on a call centre to communicate with our donors: our team member responsible for private donations phones supporters in person to thank them for their support.
  • In 2016, we saw a substantial increase in our number of followers on various social media platforms. On Twitter, our followers increased by 820 to a total of 5,760; while on LinkedIn, we presently have 840 followers – an increase of 260. Free Press Unlimited has 15,200 Facebook friends – 3,000 more than last year. In 2016, our YouTube videos were watched 9,870 times – a substantially lower number than in 2015 (14,330 times). In contrast, our website recorded a strong increase in visits – from 77,360 in 2015 to 133,150 in 2016.

Complaints procedure

Free Press Unlimited has set up a complaints mechanism for its stakeholders, which complies with ISO 9001 certification requirements. The procedure includes a protocol that all our members of staff need to adhere to. Our basic point of departure is that whenever we receive a complaint at Free Press Unlimited, something must have gone wrong at our end. Each complaint is settled and registered as soon as possible – but in any case within 14 days of its submission. If the party that lodged a complaint is not satisfied with how it has been settled, it is free to appeal to the Board of Directors of Free Press Unlimited. Once again, Free Press Unlimited is obliged to respond to the appeal within a term of 14 days. At any given time, a party that has lodged a complaint can contact Free Press Unlimited for information about its settlement.

Looking ahead

Free Press Unlimited will enter a new phase in 2016. The financial support from the Medefinancierings-stelsel (the MFS-II co-financing programme) will then be in place and we will start our Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016-2020).

We set up a number of new large-scale programmes in 2016. We also introduced a new organisational structure and new staffing, and started implementing our new strategy. In other words: in 2017, we will be able to go ‘full speed ahead’. At that point, we will have laid the groundwork for our programmes, our new teams will be more closely aligned and we can start booking results. And thanks to the input of our Knowledge & Quality team, we will be able to quantify these results more precisely than ever – and offer more insight into the true impact of our work via the stories of the people whom it is actually all about.

We are confident that our new MEAL system will yield valuable new insights that we can share with our partners, colleagues and donors. Moreover, over the next few years, we intend to make far more use of the expertise of some of our highly-valued local partners. In 2016, for example, we asked one of our partners in Malaysia to think along about a problem that we had encountered in Zimbabwe. We will be making further work of this kinds of cross-pollinations in the coming period.

Long-term strategy

In 2017, we will also continue to develop – and draw attention to – our long-term strategy for the post-2017 period. Of course, we have already been giving thought for some time now to our strategy for the period after 2020. That year will mark the end of both our Strategic Partnership and the Sida funding for our large-scale programme in Syria. Will our current partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs be followed up? Will we retain Sida as a major donor? What will happen to the Russian-Language News Exchange?

We will also need to answer other, less pragmatic questions. Free Press Unlimited would like to initiate fundamental research into the question that is at the forefront of public debate around the world: What is the impact of journalism? How does it contribute – and in which forms – to the democratic process and a more informed populace? This issue is something that we plan to shed light on in our future long-term strategy.

Larger-scale projects and spreading risks

Over the course of 2015, we already adjusted our strategy in relation to financing and fundraising. We have decided to execute fewer small-scale projects and increasingly focus on large-scale programmes – as well as seek the associated financing. In 2017, we will continue on this course. In addition, we intend to spread the risks of funding interruptions. In some cases, donors stop funding our projects in conflict areas fairly abruptly – in response to a sudden upsurge in fighting, for example. To prevent projects from immediately coming to a standstill – leaving the population without a reliable source of information – Free Press Unlimited will work to arrange the support of multiple donors.

By now, Free Press Unlimited is broadly recognised as a source of expertise in the field of media and information. This has given us growing influence on the policies of government organisations and private institutions at the national and international levels. Over the next few years, we will make unrestrained use of this influencing capacity to promote the causes of press freedom, the protection of journalists and the further professionalisation of local media organisations. So that working together with their audiences, the media can become catalysts and drivers of change – particularly in areas suffering under government oppression or violent conflict.

Our organisation

Free Press Unlimited made significant changes to its organisational structure in 2015. This is hardly surprising, since we were in the process of developing a new Theory of Change that is intended to increase the impact of our projects and programmes. And this also calls for a different type of organisation: one that is more flexible, and that concentrates around our five key themes. These changes are reflected in our organisational chart for 2016: the adapted structure is really starting to gain shape.

Free Press Unlimited is growing and professionalising at a rapid pace. This required us to make sizeable investments in 2016: in a professionalised HRM policy, a new MEAL system and the elaboration of our thematic Theories of Change. But it also extended to our financial department since over time, donor reporting requirements have become more and more complex. We created a number of new positions in 2016, including a fundraising specialist for private donors and a policy officer who bears responsibility for our international lobbying and influencing activities. Moreover, we added new members to a number of thematic teams in response to developments within our projects.

2016 was also an exceptionally busy year because we were expected to both wrap up our activities within the second co-financing scheme MFS II (having taken part in no fewer than five alliances) and simultaneously launch our new Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our team members had to handle a hefty workload. But thanks to their dedication and expertise, we have managed to pull off this daunting task. We are duly proud of the result.

Organisational structure

How do we structure our organisation so that we can both deliver solid results and achieve our objectives? Free Press Unlimited has decided on a network structure that allows our project teams and support teams to efficiently exchange knowledge and information. We work with six project teams, each of which is headed by a project leader who coordinates his or her team’s substantive activities. Four of the teams are associated with a specific region: MENA (Middle East & North Africa)/Eurasia, Sudan, Eastern Europe/Russia and Fragile Africa. In addition, we have specialised teams for the focus areas Youth & Media and Gender, Innovation & Safety.

In 2016, two of our programmes in the MENA-Eurasia region – the Syria programme and the Russian-Language News Exchange – expanded so quickly that we decided to merge them into a new team. Our teams range in size from 3.9 fte in Youth & Media to 13.6 fte in the large Sudan team, which also comprises the team members of Radio Dabanga.

This work is in part possible thanks to our colleagues in Free Press Unlimited’s seven supporting teams: Communication, Knowledge and Quality Assurance, Donor Relations, Human Resources Management, Office Management, Security and Finance. They ensure that our everyday operations run smoothly and that we are ready to take on the future.


Free Press Unlimited is a foundation. We have chosen a governance model based on a division of roles between a supervisory and an executive body. This offers the Board of Directors the necessary scope and flexibility to take quick and decisive action where required. In addition, its accountability to the Supervisory Board ensures that it manages the organisation responsibly and effectively.

The Board of Directors has two members: Leon Willems and Ruth Kronenburg. respectively Director of Policy & Programmes and Director of Operations. The Directors are responsible for the organisation’s day-to-day operations and account to the Supervisory Board. Their tasks and responsibilities have been set down in Free Press Unlimited’s Articles of Association and in the foundation’s Management Regulations. The Directors are advised by the management team (made up of the team leaders), which meets once every two weeks.

How much do the Directors of Free Press Unlimited actually earn? For their remuneration, we refer to the Dutch charity sector organisation VFI’s Recommended Remuneration Scheme for Directors of Charitable Organisations (Adviesregeling Beloning Directeuren van Goede Doelen) and Code Wijffels. For their virtually unlimited availability and commitment, the Directors are paid a gross salary of € 87.570 per year (Leon Willems) and € 78.649per year (Ruth Kronenburg).

The Directors held a number of unpaid ancillary positions in 2016, which related directly to their regular work for Free Press Unlimited. Leon Willems served as the Chair of the Global Forum for Media Development until September 2016. He will continue to support this organisation as a special adviser. Ruth Kronenburg is a Member of the Advisory Council of Pro Bono Connect, a project initiated by the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM). Neither of the Directors is reimbursed for these ancillary activities.

Supervisory Board

Free Press Unlimited’s Supervisory Board is the official employer of the Board of Directors. It monitors the organisation’s results and is free to intervene whenever it deems this necessary. The Supervisory Board bears responsibility for Free Press Unlimited’s overall strategy and reaches its decisions on the basis of annual budgets and reports. What did the Supervisory Board do in 2016?

Independent offices

In three countries, Free Press Unlimited has set up local production offices that handle very large productions on location. Over the past few years, we have worked to strengthen these offices so that they can continue without further financial support. This ‘hiving off’ is proceeding according to plan. The office in Somaliland has since become entirely self-sufficient, and the office in South Sudan, Free Voice, has also made considerable progress in this area. This process will be rounded off in early 2017.

Knowledge, quality and continuity

In 2015, we expanded our Knowledge and Quality team to a total of five members. This step started bearing fruit in 2016 with the introduction of the new MEAL framework and the Theory of Change. Among other things, the team bore responsibility for organising the baseline workshops in the countries where we will be implementing ‘No News is Bad News’. The team members didn’t rush into this. In February, they organised a trial run of the workshop in Indonesia and Tanzania, after which they made a number of adjustments and set up an internal training programme. Only then did they make a serious start with the workshops in 13 partner countries.

Free Press Unlimited is a knowledge and project organisation, and it is important to us to consolidate and increase this expertise and quality. Over the past year, Free Press Unlimited worked together with Maastricht University to develop four scenarios for Nigeria’s media landscape. Which stages of an authoritarian regime are imaginable in this country, and which role could the media play at each stage? Which position can Free Press Unlimited adopt in this context?

Scenario planning also plays a role in the initiative that we took with eight other organisations to increase the scope for civil society. This scope is under considerable pressure in a large number of countries. We are working together with our partners on an analysis of likely future scenarios in five different countries – and what are options would be in each case. Free Press will concentrate within this initiative on developments in Egypt. Free Press Unlimited and Hivos are taking the lead in this project, in which the sharing of knowledge and information plays a crucial role.

Quality management

How are we doing as an organisation? To assess our performance, we have adopted a number of widely-recognised quality standards.

  • ISO 9001 is one such ‘quality management system’. Every year, LRQA establishes whether our organisation satisfies the relevant requirements. ISO has also introduced the special Partos standard for the international development sector. Partos is also the name of the Dutch association of NGOs active in this field. Our existing ISO certification is valid until the end of February 2018.
  • Free Press Unlimited has been an Erkend Goed Doel (Recognised Charity) since 2016. This new certification mark has replaced the former CBF certification. In July 2016, a leading group of 350 organisations, including Free Press Unlimited, were the first recipients of this revised certificate issued by collaborating certification bodies like CBF and Goede Doelen Nederland.
  • Erkend Goed Doel (Recognised Charity).
  • In 2015, we prepared to move toward project reporting in accordance with the standards of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). In late 2016, all 17 projects executed by Free Press unlimited within the context of the Strategic Partnership could be found on the IATI website. However, we have agreed not to publish any information that could endanger individuals or organisations in any way. We have set down which details we will or will not make public in a special Exclusion Policy.
  • We have also drawn up our own Code of Conduct, which all members of our staff comply with. In addition, as a member of Partos and the charity sector organisation Goede Doelen Nederland, Free Press Unlimited also adheres to the codes of conduct drawn up by these organisations.


Free Press Unlimited stands for access to information. We are advocates of openness, transparency and accountability. At the same time, our commitment to transparent communication is occasionally at odds with the poor security situation in some of our partners’ countries. In practice, it is impossible for many of the media organisations in the countries that we are active in to be entirely transparent. Their employees would immediately be murdered or imprisoned. This means that in some cases, Free Press Unlimited cannot be transparent either: for example, we cannot publish the names of any people we work with. And some of our donors do not want to be mentioned by name in our publications either. In short, Free Press Unlimited opts for transparency as long as there is no risk of endangering people.

We can see another dilemma arising in our gender equality policy. Free Press Unlimited attaches such a strong importance to gender equality that the financial support to our partners is even partially dependent on this matter. A prospective partner organisation that does not want to think about its own role in this context is unlikely to obtain our support. But in some of the countries that Free Press Unlimited is active in, many partners have a completely different perspective on gender-related problems. How should we approach this issue? Which scope have we identified for improvement? In 2017, Free Press Unlimited will be making a closer study of these questions in partnership with Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Risk analysis

In 2016, Free Press Unlimited included risk analyses in each of its country year plans. In addition, we made a start on developing a risk analysis for our organisation in the fields of strategy, implementation, people and finance. This means we have already taken a significant first step towards the formulation of a complete risk analysis in the course of 2017.

The following chart sets out the key risk factors for Free Press Unlimited and its activities.


Threat Probability Impact Risk level
1 Changes in the political landscape make it difficult to secure funding for media projects. Average Strong High
2 Free Press Unlimited risks damage to its reputation as a result of negative reporting on our projects or a crisis situation. Average Limited Average
3 Projects are not executed, or executed poorly, resulting in damage to the reputation of Free Press Unlimited, its local partner and /or the donor. Low Minor Low
4 A country where we are executing one or more projects has become too unstable, necessitating the suspension or cancellation of our activities. High Minor Average
5 Hacks, phishing, espionage or unsecure digital communications result in a leak of privacy-sensitive information that could potentially endanger
people’s lives.
High Strong High
6 A local partner or Free Press Unlimited itself does not honour agreements made with a donor during a project’s execution, resulting in damage to Free Press Unlimited’s reputation. Average Limited Average

Project management information system

One problem that has given us quite a few headaches is finding a solid information system that we can use to manage our projects. This is something of an untapped market: there’s no such thing as the perfect system. Nevertheless, we intend to source the best system available – we are convinced that in the longer term, this will benefit us both in operational and financial terms. We performed extensive research, engaged the services of an external consultant and asked fellow organisations to give us an idea of how their systems worked. In late 2016, we started a pilot programme with the system that best suits our requirements. An additional advantage of this option is that it is open source software, meaning that everyone who uses this system can benefit from our investments. In early 2017, the test run will hopefully have led to a positive evaluation, after which we can start implementing the new system throughout our organisation. This project management information system will help us to monitor, evaluate, account for and learn from our projects (we refer you to ‘How do we measure the impact of our work? (MEAL)’).


We are growing out of our offices. Or rather: we are having trouble sharing the available space with other organisations. Right now, we share our premises on Weesperstraat in Amsterdam with our partner Greenhost. After fruitless attempts to find new and affordable joint base, we have decided in consultation with Greenhost that they will be moving to a new office on their own. This means that our calendar for 2017 also includes a re-organisation of our offices.

Corporate Social Responsibility

At Free Press Unlimited, we strive to minimise our CO2 emissions as far as possible. What kind of measures have we taken?

  • We encourage staff to travel by means of public transport and work from home.
  • We use green electricity from renewable sources like solar power and wind.
  • We book climate-neutral flights. We offset our emissions via the Climate Neutral Group.

Over the past few years, we have considerably reduced the volume of paper used by our organisation – mainly by cutting down on printing. And when we source products or services, we select the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly option wherever possible.

Human resource management

Our employees form the mainstay of our organisation. Without their knowledge, experience, dedication and passion, we would not be able to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, we are unable to pay them the salary they deserve for their hard work. Remuneration levels at Free Press Unlimited are significantly below international standards. That is why we do our best to create a pleasant and supportive work environment and offer them attractive fringe benefits like training opportunities.

Our rapid growth has also required us to develop a solid HR programme. In 2015, we hired a part-time HR officer and decided to formulate a new HR policy. But developments unfurled at such a high pace that this new colleague is presently working full-time. In 2016, our new HR officer set up a solid new human resource management policy in consultation with the staff and the Board of Directors. This policy will be implemented in the course of 2017. The three main features of this policy are:

  1. Our employees form the mainstay of our organisation.
  2. Free Press Unlimited aims to be an attractive employer.
  3. Our human resources management needs to be professionalised further.


At the end of 2016, Free Press Unlimited employed 68 people, and throughout the year our workforce consisted of 60.9 fte on average – 10 fte more than in 2015. A total of 27 employees left the organisation in the year under review (compared to 15 in 2015). Seven of them left to pursue new growth opportunities elsewhere or for personal reasons. In the case of five staff members, their contract was not renewed because the project they were working on had been rounded off. We parted ways with two employees in mutual consultation. Three employees left because they were here temporarily for replacement during (maternity) leave. One employee passed away.

In 2016, we welcomed no fewer than 27 new colleagues (2015: 12). Of this number, six employees (representing 6.2 fte) worked abroad – within our Syria programme and the new Russian-Language News Exchange, among other projects.

Feedback from our staff

In 2016, we held an employee satisfaction survey among our staff. This survey went into subjects like the current workload, our organisation, collaboration with colleagues and the staff’s direction by the MT. We took a long, hard look at ourselves. Sometimes this wasn’t easy, but this step was welcomed by our people nonetheless. And it had direct consequences for our organisation: some staff members wondered what the MT meetings were actually for. And why these meetings didn’t include the Communication and Knowledge and Quality Assurance coordinators. They had a point. In addition, the Board of Directors spends a relatively large amount of time on operational issues. While this is a common situation in fast-growing organisations, this threatens to overwhelm the Directors themselves.

As of 2017, the two-weekly meeting of the MT will be replaced by a strategic management meeting, which is held once every quarter. This meeting will be attended by the Board of Directors and the team leaders, as well as the aforementioned coordinators. In addition, the team leaders and the coordinators will meet once a month for consultation. If they fail to reach a decision on some matter, they can discuss it with the Directors during a regular bilateral meeting.

The Board of Directors was also very satisfied with the process and results of the survey. A number of operational tasks that were previously handled by the Board of Directors have now been taken on by other members of the organisation – leaving more time for the Directors to focus on management and delegation. Another conclusion is that while we may learn a lot at the individual level, we are not learning enough as an organisation. We will be immediately setting to work on this issue in 2017. In January, we will come together for one week to reflect on our activities and draw collective lessons from our insights.


In 2016, Free Press Unlimited presented its new gender equality policy. And of course, as an organisation, we need to set an example in this area. As far as the male/female ratio is concerned, we’re doing quite well: Free Press Unlimited employs 34 women and 32 men. The ratio is less balanced at the management level. The MT is made up of 3 women and 6 men; the Board of Directors consists of one man and one woman. Free Press Unlimited strives to fill more managerial vacancies with female candidates.
The average age of our employees is 42, with a relatively even distribution of age groups: under 35: 25 employees; 35-50: 23 employees; 50-65: 16 employees.

Interns and volunteers

In 2016, our organisation was strengthened by 12 interns and 11 volunteers. We have a clear policy for our intern programme that includes clear guidelines for recruitment and task descriptions. We see internships as a win-win deal: our internsgain relevant work experience, while we often get unexpected, occasionally critical questions that keep us on our toes as a learning organisation. Our (often young) volunteers also enjoy deploying their capacities for our work. In 2016, they contributed to our events, wrote copy for our website, translated for us, helped during lunches and supported us in processing the results of our surveys.

Absence due to illness

In 2016, our absence due to illness rate fell quite spectacularly to 1.7%. In 2015 this rate still stood at 4.4% – which can mainly be explained by two long-term illnesses – but in 2014, this percentage was also significantly higher: 2.15%. If you compare our 2016 rate of 1.72% to the national average of 4.1% absence due to illness, it appears as if our efforts to create a healthier work environment are starting to pay off.

Trust committee

An independent, external trust committee can serve as a point of contact for employees who wish to lodge a substantiated complaint about a matter that they are unable to resolve with their direct manager. Free Press Unlimited offers other channels of recourse for complaints pertaining to the organisation or employment law.

In early 2016, the trust committee received a number of informal complaints. To take these informal complaints into consideration, they needed to be formalised – and the committee urged the complainants to take action to this effect. Unfortunately to no avail. That is why after consultation with the Board of Directors , the trust committee decided to also discuss informal complaints and determine whether they merited contacting the Supervisory Board. In addition, the Board of Directors took the initiative to hold an employee satisfaction survey and brought in a staff consultation expert. These measures seem to have paid off: by the end of March, it had been six weeks since the last informal complaint had come in.

The trust committee, which is made up of a male and a female member, is jointly nominated by the Board of Directors and the staff representative body (personeelsvertegenwoordiging). The members of the trust committee are not remunerated for this work. In principle, they serve for a two-year term, which can be extended for another two years. In October 2016, the members stepped down at the end of their second term, which was celebrated in style. Free Press Unlimited is currently in the process of forming a new trust committee.

Training and education

Every member of our staff is free to take advantage of our Continuous Professional Development Plan (CPDP). As implied by the name, this plan organises employees’ on-going acquisition of new skills and knowledge for their personal development and that of their team. This plan also provides scope for trainings that contribute to the overall functioning of our organisation. In 2016, for example, we started to work with a wiki environment rather than a shared drive on our server. After we organised an organisation-wide training, all country plans for 2017 were jointly developed within this wiki. In addition, over the past year, we offered trainings in a variety of areas, including data management, encryption, physical safety and crisis management. We have a number of new trainings on our calendar for 2017, with a stronger focus on substantive aspects of our programmes.

One of the conclusions that we could draw from the employee satisfaction survey is that there is a strong need for personal support – possibly even more than for training. That is why in 2017, both the members of our Executive Team and the team leaders will be trained by coaches, enabling them to provide more effective support to their team members.

Staff representation

In light of Free Press Unlimited’s rapid growth, we will be replacing our former staff representative body (personeelsvertegenwoordiging) with a full-fledged works council. In 2016, we jointly examined which shape this body should take, which tasks and authorities are assigned to a works council and how to ensure a smooth transition. This will be put into practice over the course of 2017.

Our staff representative body convened on some 20 occasions in 2016, of which seven meetings were also attended by the Board of Directors and four meetings by the organisation’s entire staff. Important topics of discussion during these meetings included the new job descriptions, a new salary system, the employee satisfaction survey, the election of a new staff representative body and, of course, the transition toward a works council.

Safety policy

Many of the countries Free Press Unlimited works are faced with government repression or armed conflict. Intimidation, violence, kidnappings and arrests are the order of the day. Journalists are particularly at risk. That is why we have adopted an active safety policy that each member of our staff has to comply with. Our employees are required to complete a compulsory safety training and stay up to date on developments in our safety policy and security recommendations. A number of staff members attended this training or a refresher course in 2016, and we also organised a training that focused on crisis management.

However, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the physical safety of our staff and partners. Another – increasingly important – area of attention is digital security. Free Press Unlimited’s database contains a large volume of sensitive data, from personal information about our partners and individual journalists to the financial details of our projects. If they were to be leaked, in extreme cases, this breach could result in people being imprisoned, or worse.

That is why we made work of this as early as 2014, appointing a security coordinator, developing an information security policy and training our staff in a variety of safety measures, including the encryption of their emails. In 2016, we also invited a white hat hacker to test the security of our systems. The hacker’s findings were shared with the entire staff, and we have asked the hacker to regularly revisit our organisation to test the current security arrangements. This keeps us on our toes, and keeps our data safe.