Management Report 2016

Free Press Unlimited can look back on a challenging and intense year. A year filled both with major changes within our organisation, and widespread public debate regarding the media’s role in today’s world.

In 2016, we grew at an amazing pace, launched our Strategic Partnership ‘No News is Bad News’ and secured follow-up funding for our programme in Syria. But 2016 was also the year in which we were forced to put our successful programme in South Sudan on hold after violence flared up again in this region. And the year in which numerous journalists were once again threatened or murdered with impunity – simply for doing their job. People like Elisabeth Olofio.

Risking your life to inform the public

At the end of the year, we once again had to draw up a sad balance: in 2016, 101 journalists were killed in the line of duty. One of them was the Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans, who was shot dead in October in Libya. A very worrying trend in this context is that a growing number of journalists are actually targeted on purpose. And even more unsettling is the fact that in only 4% of all perpetrators are actually punished.

The countless threats, assaults, arrests and murders will inevitably result in self-censorship. This restriction of journalists’ freedom has huge consequences for their audiences. Citizens are deprived of relevant and reliable information. In 2016, Free Press Unlimited helped journalists all over the world to protect themselves and their sources. But of course, such protection measures are merely stop-gaps. The real solution lies in governments actually taking responsibility for journalists’ protection – rather than curtailing the freedom of the press – and putting an end to the impunity that feeds this violence. Free Press Unlimited lobbies ceaselessly for this in a variety of international forums – from the United Nations to the European Union.

Press freedom is also under pressure in our own country, the Netherlands, and throughout Europe. Sometimes in the shape of outright oppression – as is the case with the Netherlands’ recently-proposed Intelligence and Security Services Act (Wet op de Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdiensten, Wiv). This new bill authorises the large-scale tapping of citizens’ communications by secret services via data trawling. Such activities form a threat to the democratic system and to the work done by investigative reporters and other journalists. If whistle-blowers aren’t sure whether their identity can be kept secret, they will be very wary about sharing information with the press. In 2016, Free Press Unlimited, together with likeminded organisations, was a vocal opponent of these plans.

Indonesian answer to doubts about the media’s legitimacy

Which responsibilities do our journalists have? What are the media for? In 2016, the role played by newspapers, news websites, magazines, radio stations and television channels was the subject of widespread debate. People are starting to lose their confidence in ‘the press’, and the media themselves aren’t completely sure of their role either. For example, after Donald Trump had won the presidential elections, the media in the US and elsewhere in the West subjected their own actions to intense scrutiny: What did we do wrong? To make things worse, many independent media organisations are finding it difficult to stay afloat financially.

Our Indonesian partner Suara Surabaya Radio generally isn’t too bothered by existential doubts of this kind – and 2016 was no exception. From day one, the unbelievably popular radio station, which serves the metropolis of Surabaya, Indonesia, wanted to offer more than just local entertainment. “We are a social institution,” says founder Errol Jonathans. Suara Surabaya asks listeners which problems they come up against, and which solutions they have devised. The station has gained so much influence with its broadcasts that the local mayor and chief of police also regularly phone in to join the discussion. Among other things, this has allowed Suara Surabaya to play a role in solving the metropolis’s gigantic waste problem.

At Free Press Unlimited, we are proud of partners like Suara Surabaya. This is what good journalism and the media are all about: ethical, reliable and close to their audience – people who need the provided information to survive and develop. What’s more, Suara Surabaya has done well by this approach. With over 600,000 listeners in 2016, the radio station has no difficulty keeping its head above water. And we can see a similar story in other parts of the world: local partners who are explicitly working in the interest of their citizens, and have earned – or won back – their trust in the process. These journalists don’t limit themselves to ‘entertaining’ topics. But they manage to get things done nevertheless.

War in South Sudan

In July, the civil war in South Sudan flared up once again, which meant that we had to put our successful radio project on hold for several months. This was a difficult decision: the radio soap opera Sawa Shabab is incredibly popular among the local youth and is broadcast by more than 40 radio stations. Produced by our local partner, Saw Shahab encourages its audience to think about the future of their society. Our partner is presently working to produce a new season of the series outside South Sudan with the help of Free Press Unlimited. We also support Radio Tamazuj: the only radio station in South Sudan to bring uncensored news. These broadcasts are of vital importance to the local population. The station not only helps them to stay safe, it also gives all parties a chance to present their case – serving as a counterweight for hate and polarisation in the country.

Innovation and collaboration

But it isn’t all doom and gloom: journalism today is more multifaceted and innovative than ever before. Free Press Unlimited warmly supports this trend and is happy to initiate new developments. Well-trained, innovative media are able to serve their audiences more effectively. That is why, for example, we trained 25 investigative reporters from Tunisia in 2016. It didn’t take long before they were producing revealing reports about a polluting phosphate plant or human trafficking for the benefit of militant groups in Libya. And thanks to our support, people in remote rural areas in Pakistan can listen to a daily, two-minute news bulletin in their own language via their mobile phones. Through this innovation and other methods, the local radio station TNN was able to significantly expand its reach in 2016. Some 40 percent of Pakistan’s rural population is illiterate. But they do own telephones – meaning they now have access to relevant news coverage.

Another important positive development in 2016: more and more journalists are working together. Examples include the Panama Papers and the Football Leaks website, which calls attention to large-scale tax evasion schemes set up by multinational corporations and major football clubs. A fantastic example of cross-border collaboration in journalism is the Russian-Language News Exchange, which we launched in 2016. For the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, local media organisations from Ukraine to Belarus are working together to offer independent news coverage in the vast Russian-speaking region.

The organisation: new, newer, newest

If we had to sum up Free Press Unlimited’s organisational development in 2016 in a single word, it would be ‘new’. In 2016, we began to work in a new organisational structure, with a large number of new colleagues. We also started implementing our new Theory of Change and our new monitoring and evaluation system… as well as making a start on various new, large-scale programmes and platforms. Of course, throughout this entire overhaul, we ‘kept the shop open’– and we even offered a few new ‘products’. Which explains our opening sentence: 2016 was truly a “challenging and intense year”.

In 2016 two major programmes were drawing to a close: our activities in and around Syria and the Press Freedom 2.0 alliance. Did our efforts have the intended impact? As far as we can measure this, we wouldn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Allow us to offer some examples. The news coverage by the 41 Syrian media organisations that signed our Ethical Charter has demonstrably improved in terms of reliability. And hundreds of professional and citizen journalists in 11 countries have been trained under our supervision. Numerous media organisations, training institutes, local NGOs and civil society organisations were stimulated to set up active partnerships by the Press Freedom 2.0 programme. In 2016, we also rounded off the programme in Iran with our partner Radio Zamaneh. To our delight, this radio station is now completely self-sufficient. It can stand on its own two feet – including in financial terms.

In 2016, we worked together with the European Journalism Centre (EJC) to lay solid foundations for ‘No News is Bad News’, a new 5-year programme within our Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the next five years, we will be working to professionalise and strengthen journalists and media organisations in 17 countries, so that they can serve as drivers and catalysts for change.
We also teamed up with local partners in 13 countries to organise so-called baseline workshops. In these workshops, we worked together with these partners to establish our points of departure for our long-term collaboration.

Around the world, the media pay far less attention to women’s interests than they do to men’s. This under-representation ranges from a limited number of female journalists and media managers to a lack of women’s perspectives in newspaper columns and radio programmes. To structurally address this disparity, on 8 March 2016, Free Press Unlimited launched a new gender equality policy. Over the next few years, we can be held accountable for our commitment to promoting equal access, opportunities and rights for men and women alike – in our programmes, among our partners and within our own organisation.

Staff, friends and donors

We enjoyed an increase in our income in 2016. And of course, one of the most noticeable items in the second column was ‘staff costs’. In the year under review, Free Press Unlimited expanded at a rapid pace, from nearly 46 to nearly 61 fte. In 2016, we worked hard to ensure that our projects were either awarded funding or maintained their existing budget. And with some success: a number of new funds and donors have pledged their support. But we also see existing donors supporting us again. We are very grateful with the generous support of Humanity United and delighted that the Swedish organisation Sida will be supporting our programme in Syria over the next five years, after the successful completion of a previous 3-year project.

And in 2016, we could once again count on the invaluable support of our loyal Friends of Free Press Unlimited – and of one of our very closest friends, the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Unfortunately, the numerous attacks on free speech in 2016 show just how important our work remains. And finally, we would like to call attention to our own staff here at Free Press Unlimited. We are very aware that 2016 was an exceptionally challenging and intense year for them too. Without their expertise, dedication and patience, we could never have hoped to realise all our ambitions. That is why we would like to close off with a heartfelt ‘Thank you all!’

Leon Willems, Director of Policy and Programmes
Ruth Kronenburg, Director of Operations

Case Studies

Hagamos Click

Training helps Ecuadorian children’s television to flourish

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Radio Dabanga

Reliable coverage of news in Darfur

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First-line support for online safety

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Reporters Respond

Emergency assistance for journalists

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Z Kids News

News for children (and adults) in Zambia

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Iraqi women present dissenting views online

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Radio soap opera challenges child marriages in Nepal

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Russian-language news platform for independent media

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Non-partisan television channel in Ukraine

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Local radio stations in the Central African Republic

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