In 2016, Free Press Unlimited’s work was once again – unfortunately – justified by new developments. In many parts of the world, the state of press freedom is still a tragic farce. Journalists are threatened, assaulted and murdered – simply for doing their job. Millions of people the world over are denied the objective and reliable information they need to develop as individuals and build their communities. Or to stay alive, as is the case in conflict areas like Darfur and Iraq.

People deserve to know

Our vision is crystal-clear: People deserve to know. Free Press Unlimited helps local media partners to provide their audiences with the information they are entitled to. We mainly work in regions where this right to information is under – often severe – pressure. This isn’t always easy. For example, in 2016, we had to suspend our successful radio soap opera in South Sudan due to an upsurge of violence in that country. This extremely popular programme encouraged young people in the region to think about the future of their war-torn society.

But in many cases, we have been able to provide independent media and journalists with effective support – even under very challenging circumstances. This has resulted in inspiring success stories like the cross-border collaboration between journalists in the new Russian-Language News Exchange, the rebuilding of independent radio stations in the Central African Republic and our NetAidKit, which enables journalists to communicate securely online. These are but a few of the many activities that we undertook in 2016 to defend press freedom and people’s right to information.

Our results in 10 stories

In this annual report, we will be presenting the fruits of our efforts through ten stories. We have selected two telling examples of results achieved in 2016 within the themes focussed on by our organisation. These themes are:

1. Gender and Media
Iraqi women present dissenting views online
Radio opera challenges child marriages in Nepal

2. Accountability and Media
Russian-language news platform for independent media non-partisan television channel in Ukraine

3. Journalism in conflict areas
Local radio stations in the Central African Republic
Radio Dabanga: reliable coverage of news in Darfur

4. Safety for Journalists
NetAidKit offers first-line support for online safety
Reporters Respond, emergency assistance for journalists

5. Children, Youth and Media
Training helps Ecuadorian children’s television to flourish
News for children (and adults) in Zambia

Found at the heart of all our activities: gender equality and safety

We believe that two of the above themes are so important that we have assigned them a key role in each of our projects: gender equality and safety. We presented our new gender equality policy On 8 March 2016 – International Women’s Day. We support our media partners in the active promotion of gender equality, both within their organisations and in the content of their newspaper columns and broadcast programmes. But we have also taken a good hard look at ourselves: where can we see areas for improvement within our own organisation?
The same applies to safety. In 2016, we examined and improved our security arrangements for our activities in the online and physical domains. This can help to protect our partners working in conflict areas and authoritarian states. After all, it becomes very difficult for journalists to do their job when they fear for their safety.

A year full of changes

2016 was a very eventful year for Free Press Unlimited. We not only went through rapid growth; we also implemented a new organisational structure and welcomed a large number of new colleagues. On top of this, we set up a number of major new programmes and platforms. One example is the programme ‘No News is Bad News’, which we will be executing together with the European Journalism Centre in a strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through this programme, we will work to professionalise and support journalists and media organisations in 17 countries. This enables them to effectively fulfil their role as sources of independent information, and champion the public’s right to information and the freedom of the press.

How will we achieve our objectives?

2016 was the first year that we worked on the basis of our new Theory of Change. Put simply, this Theory states that if Free Press Unlimited wants to help local media fulfil their vital social role, we need to focus our efforts on three key goals:

  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 the objectives we put our heart and soul into – every day – together with our partners. We promote them directly, via our projects. And indirectly, by advocating the adoption – and enforcement – of legislation and regulations that protect journalists and safeguard the public’s right to information. 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.

They support our work (and have so for many years)

Our work and that of our partners can make a huge difference in the lives of citizens all over the world. And we aren’t the only ones who think so – fortunately, our loyal Friends and other supporters stand squarely behind our objectives. In 2016 (and before), we once again managed to persuade a number of major donors to back our programmes. Long-term financing in particular is of crucial importance for our work: after all, it takes more than a few years to set up a sustainable independent information service. We are delighted that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to enter into a five-year partnership with Free Press Unlimited. And we are also very grateful for the un-earmarked donation that we received from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, which in 2016 once again pledged its support to our work for another five years, and increased their structural contribution from 500,000 to 900,000 euros per year. And on top of that, in November 2015, we were extremely pleased to hear of The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)’s decision to support our programme in Syria for a term of five years.

Solid foundations for a bright future

In 2016, we saw an increase in our total income to almost 16,5 million euros. According to our budget for 2017, we expect an income of 15 million euros. However, this is a cautious estimation, which does include the increase of the structural support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery from 500,000 to 900,000 euros per year. Based on our new long-term strategy for 2017, we will increasingly be focusing on larger-scale programmes – and on raising the associated funds. In the year under review, we laid the groundwork for a number of new programmes, introduced a new method of working and effectively aligned our organisation with the rapid growth of recent years. In 2017, we and our partners will be reaping the rewards. Together, we can work even more efficiently towards promoting the freedom of the press and people’s right to information.