In 2018, we are far from being rid of the phenomenon of fake news. For Free Press Unlimited this means two things: we want to do more research into the effect of this disinformation, namely in developing countries and emerging countries. And we will be putting more effort into our projects for ethical journalism. In the era of fake news, journalistic principles are more important than ever, and must be respected by every journalist and publisher.
Journalists’ safety will continue to be a priority for Free Press Unlimited in 2018. At the end of 2017, together with the University of Sheffield, we started an investigation into threats to journalists. The question is: how can we collect verifiable data on all countries, so that we get a better overall picture, based on unambiguous data? And how can we use this locally, in the countries in which Free Press Unlimited is active? Based on the results, we will take more and new actions to increase the safety of journalists worldwide in 2018.
Research and knowledge development
We plan to initiate action research, in the sense of research which directly involves our partners, more frequently in 2018. The media are struggling worldwide with the question: how do we finance independent journalism? In 2017 in Central America, Free Press Unlimited launched market research into possible payment and business models for independent (digital) media. These media play an important democratic role in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where many radio and TV channels and newspapers are affiliated with the state.
Online platforms such as Nómada in Guatemala bring relevant news and are brave enough to hold authorities accountable. In Latin America too, companies spend a large part of their advertising budget on Google, Facebook and state media. How can independent media keep their heads above water without contravening their mission and journalistic principles? Thanks to this thorough research and the recommendations of the research institute, the media can make choices in 2018 and draw up a strategy.
We will further develop our knowledge in 2018. Does our approach work, are we on the right track or do we need to adjust our strategy? Do our projects have the impact we want? The mid-term review of No News is Bad News will undoubtedly provide answers in 2018. Input for this mid-term evaluation comes from at least 10 workshops that we will organise in 10 different countries to introduce the Outcome Harvesting method. The Most Significant Change stories that we will gather in various countries, will also teach us some wise lessons about the value and usability of our Theory of Change.
Funding of media projects
Plenty of challenges remain in 2018. How do we get the funding for Radio Dabanga, the radio station that can mean the difference between life and death for 2.3 million listeners? In the wake of the US and the EU seeking rapprochement with the criminal regime in Sudan, for opportunistic reasons (counterterrorism, migration deal), donors have become tentative in their support for Radio Dabanga. Which brave donor has the courage to finance this radio station despite that?
In any case, the financing of media projects such as that of Free Press Unlimited is not easy. Yet worldwide calls for a counterbalance to the destructive fake news are becoming louder. However, up to now governments and many donors do not pay – or are not willing to pay for it. In 2018, Free Press Unlimited will strengthen its efforts to share success stories: projects that make people media-wise, give a voice and promote (gender) equality. We show donors and other stakeholders why the right to information is a condition for a democratic society. We will also start a campaign in the Netherlands to recruit new supporters and donors by involving them in our work for the protection of journalists.
Ambitions and challenges
Not a new challenge, but one that is becoming more urgent due to rapid technological developments: how do we keep in touch with young people, how do we help them to distinguish between fake news and the truth? What can Free Press Unlimited contribute to their growing up to be well-informed citizens? What also needs to be investigated: how do young people consume news? We already set up a working group in 2017, to carry this out in 2018.
Should Free Press Unlimited be doing more in Europe? This question pops up regularly and is usually asked by our European partners. They also struggle with the question of how to deal with issues such as fake news and attacks on independent journalism. In the Balkans journalism has been driven out of the public domain, in Hungary and Poland the rule of law is being dismantled. In 2018, we must also make in-roads for a European programme. A major dilemma is funding: it may not be at the expense of projects for press freedom in developing countries.
No lack of ambitions. 2018 will not be a relaxed year, but Free Press Unlimited is not on this earth to relax. We are here to achieve and defend the right to information. For everyone, everywhere in the world. People deserve to know.