We begin this annual report with an unusual summary. This time, not of the number of journalists murdered, threatened or attacked in 2018, but of examples that illustrate the immeasurable importance of their work. What would the world miss if independent journalists did not go to their desks and to power centres, crime scenes and conflict areas every day? Billions of people would have to do without relevant, reliable and independent reporting.
A world without journalism?
Just before the office of our Nicaraguan partner Confidencial was plundered and destroyed by the police, business manager Enrique Gasteazoro had visited Free Press Unlimited. The revolt in Nicaragua against President Ortega’s authoritarian regime was in full swing – and met with brute force. Over 400 people were murdered, more than 800 were kidnapped and tens of thousands fled to the neighbouring country of Costa Rica. Gasteazoro was an illustration of how important independent media is for the public. Before the crisis, Confidencial had 660,000 page views, 146,000 users and 225,000 visitors. After the protests and the government’s violent reaction, those numbers rose to 1.9 million page views, 350,000 users and 665,000 visitors. Confidencial’s YouTube channel gained 83,000 extra subscribers. Thanks to Confidencial, Nicaraguans were kept informed about what was really going on in their country.
Inhabitants of Sudan would not know that a cholera epidemic was sweeping over their country (or how they can avoid contamination) and without the Radio Dabanga broadcasts, foreign media would be cut off from information about the gross human rights violations by President al-Bashir. Without the 100 community radio stations linked with our partner FRPC, some 10 million Congolese in remote areas would remain deprived of information about the recent presidential elections – and therefore vote uninformed. And the whole world now knows that corruption is rampant in democratic countries such as Malta and Slovakia, thanks to the brave investigative work of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak – who paid the highest priced for that.
Closer to home in the Netherlands, we would not be aware of the secondary schools that turned away weaker pupils from final exams, the failing monitoring of medical implants or the billions in dividend tax fraud by European bankers and hedge funds, without the patient, in-depth investigative work of journalists and the high quality media and funds that made budgets available. Fake news would not be monitored or contradicted, troll factories not exposed and social media giants would sell our data even more rampantly. Free Press Unlimited exists to provide that relevant, reliable and independent journalism all over the world; in this annual report we show how we did that in 2018.
Violence against journalists
‘Silencing journalists means silencing society as a whole’, stated Minister for Foreign Affairs Blok accurately during our event, Free Press Live 2018. But worldwide, things are not looking good for the gatekeepers of democracy. In 2018, more journalists were murdered and imprisoned than in any other year of the last decade. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), certainly 54 journalists were killed in the performance of their work; for another 24 deaths no motive could be determined. At least 251 journalists were placed behind bars in 2018, the most cited indictment being ‘opposition to the state’. Being a journalist is a life-threatening profession in many countries, as was again made clear by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi regime. And as in this case, the (true) perpetrators are almost never brought to justice.
Journalists, like our Free Press Award winners Rana Ayyub from India and Kemi Busari from Nigeria who continue to do their work despite countless online and physical threats, are incredibly courageous. They deserve the outspoken and unfailing support of everyone who supports democracy. Free Press Unlimited believes that precisely that solidarity is crucial to the survival of independent journalism. After the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, 45 colleagues of 18 media from 15 countries took over her investigative projects. In this way, they show that killing journalists is futile: the work will go on. Colleagues of murdered Ján Kuciak did exactly the same in Slovakia. The Dutch colleagues of John van den Heuvel should take a leaf out of their book: everyone reported on his situation, but we heard far too little about how awful and absolutely unacceptable it was that the crime journalist could no longer do his job.
Public support is equally important, as was seen after the murder of Jan Kúciak. ‘If those 100,00 people had not taken to the streets after the murder of Ján Kuciak, the same ministers would still be in office,’ said colleague Martin Turĉek during Free Press Live. It is with good reason that Free Press Unlimited works worldwide on strengthening coalitions between social organisations and media: they desperately need each other in the fight for democracy and the right to information.
European press freedom under attack
In Central Europe, we are witnessing the emergence of authoritarian regimes and a shocking decline in press freedom, especially in EU member states. In recent years, all the major media in Hungary have been bought up by stalwarts of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The unprecedented equalisation that followed at the end of November was shocking: all the government-minded media owners ‘donated’ their almost 500 media to a single media conglomerate. ‘Press freedom is dead’ according to the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom; the Hungarians receive their news from a well-oiled Orbán-minded propaganda machine.
A little further up, the Czech president makes no secret of his dislike of journalists and even before the murder of Kuciak, government intimidation was also rife in neighbouring country Slovakia. In just three years, Poland has dropped from 18th to 58th place on the Reporters Without Borders 2018 press freedom index. And aspiring EU members, like Serbia and Montenegro, are ranked 76 and 103 (of 178 countries worldwide) respectively. Enough reason for Free Press Unlimited to carry out an investigation in 2018 as to whether we should resume activities in the Balkans after an absence of ten years. The conclusion: our former partners can hardly wait for our return. We will do our best to make it happen.
What is the European Union doing with these disturbing developments? Not enough, unfortunately. After Free Press Unlimited sent a pressing letter to the European Commission (EC) on behalf of seventeen organisations, following the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak, both EC President, Juncker, and Vice-president, Timmermans, spoke out for increased safety for journalists. But concrete action has yet to be taken to combat the lack of protection and the impunity in member states. In this respect, the EU can draw on the example of the Netherlands that made a fund of € 1.45 available with which Free Press Unlimited can provide legal assistance to journalists.
What is going well and what could be better?
More than their male colleagues, female journalists face online threats and the verbal abuse is often sexual in nature. And that has everything to do with the persistent and widespread gender inequality to which media also often contribute. We help media hold a mirror up to their actions using our gender media monitoring tools: how (and how often) do we publish about women? How often are female journalists mentioned in the by-line of their articles and how many female experts boost the media? To find out, our Malian partner, Tuwindi, developed an excellent app, which we jointly adapted for international use in 2018. We are also proud of the growth spurt of our Men4Women initiative, (now renamed Move4Women): we started in 2017 in four countries and last year male journalists in no less than fourteen countries demonstrated for the rights of women in the media.
In 2018, in a thorough mid-term review of No News Is Bad News we saw that our work is paying off. No News Is Bad News is the strategic partnership of Free Press Unlimited and European Journalism Centre with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it is our largest programme. in the 22 countries we studied, public appreciation for our partners has increased. We also saw the great impact of the media that Free Press Unlimited supports – particularly their misconduct-oriented content. Our partners do have more need for information about revenue models for (online) quality journalism – this will be a spearhead in our future cooperation. Our two other major programmes are also making excellent progress: the Russian Language News Platform continues to innovate and has managed to reach an audience of millions. And the Syrian media sector (in exile), which operates in the most difficult of circumstances, nonetheless manages to work more and more professionally,
Although we see hopeful initiatives, like Nómada in Guatemala that is experimenting with new revenue models, there are many places where media cannot do their work without outside support. Two radio stations in exile, which Free Press Unlimited has taken under her wing in recent years, once again experienced difficulty keeping their independent heads above water in 2018. Ten years ago, Radio Dabanga was forced to settle in Amsterdam. A radio station in exile with (by now) an enormous reach in Sudan and the refugee camps outside, that cannot survive without funds from donors. Once again, in the last year, Free Press Unlimited had to pitch in financially to keep this life-saving radio station up and running.
How relevant is sexy?
In this annual report more than in previous years, we are focusing on a topic that might not appear very exciting, but is extremely important: advocacy. Free Press Unlimited believes that the voice of its local partners must be heard more clearly in the international decision making of the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, we want them to be able to exert a direct influence. That is why we take part in UN discussions, write letters to the European Commission and have discussions with Dutch members of parliament. So we can close the enormous gap between the international bodies in New York and the media (organisations) in Pakistan or Congo, which is ultimately what it is all about. Out of the spotlights, with others if possible, Free Press Unlimited travels to the centres of power and meeting circuits to defend the right of access to information and the protection of journalists. That is what we want to highlight in this annual report.
Our partners believe the question of whether policy influencing is sexy or not irrelevant: they appreciate it that we open the gates to the international power, however slightly. Conversely, they have a wealth of knowledge, expertise and local networks that are of great value to us and for international organisations that defend press freedom. In their relationship with Free Press Unlimited, partners appreciate the equality and mutual respect, as our recent partner satisfaction showed. ‘Our relationship is based on professionalism, solidarity and trust,’ as one them explains the high score on satisfaction.
Thanks, huge thanks
For this, we must first thank our staff who, over the past year, dedicated themselves once again to everyone’s right to independent information. And we as Free Press Unlimited can only do our work thanks to the trust and support from our Friends and important donors like the Dutch government, Swedish Sida, the European Union and the Dutch Postcode Lottery and last but not least, our extremely driven employees. They are the hope in fearful times for our media partners who continue to report independently in conflict countries, dictatorships and fragile democracies.
Leon Willems, Director Policy & Programmes
Ruth Kronenburg, Director Operations