Our 3 main programmes
Free Press Unlimited is extremely happy with the multi-year support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Sida. Thanks to the cooperation with these important donors, we can execute 3 major programmes that will make a difference, also long term, to the lives of millions of people.
No News is Bad News
2017 was the second year of our Strategic Partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Together with the European Journalism Centre (EJC), we have been running the programme ‘No News is Bad News’ for 5 years and in 17 countries, from Bangladesh to Somalia. A fantastic programme, where we help media and journalists fulfil their important role in society.
In 2017, we organised baseline workshops in the 4 countries in which we had not done so in 2016. In those workshops, together with our partners, we determined the baseline situation in their country, before we started implementing the programme. In the baseline, we describe what the media landscape looks like, how professional media are, whether they have taken steps towards financial independence and what the position of female journalists is. It ‘automatically’ becomes clear where the gaps are and together we can set goals, including milestones: when do we want to achieve which part of this goal?
in 2017, we evaluated the state of affairs for each of the 11 countries and 1 region (Central America) where Free Press Unlimited has taken the lead in No News is Bad News. Inevitably, the results are minimal in war-torn countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and Burundi. Governments give zero priority to the right to information and critical, independent journalism is extremely difficult. We are extremely proud of our partners who continue to try to achieve the goals of the programme in these difficult circumstances. For example, the 11 radio stations that we support in CAR, play an important role in conflict prevention and reconciliation. And young journalists in Burundi managed to produce 11 episodes of the youth programme Ndafise Ikibanza (‘I have a place’) that was broadcast through 3 radio stations and social media.
The success story of our partner BNNRC in Bangladesh is a good example of how broad the No News is Bad News programme is. BNNRC is in fact a network, not a lobby organisation, but has still proved that effective policy can positively influence community radio stations. Together with our radio stations and other stakeholders BNNRC developed future strategies for the de sector: how can independent radio stations keep their heads above water? They also tried to bring civil society organisations and media together in a platform. In 2017, BNNRC trained 13 Dalit men and 23 women, 10 of whom were Dalit, from community radio stations to report on the problems of disadvantaged groups. The broadcasts must result in concrete improvements. For example, if a journalist makes an item about domestic violence, at the same time a talk show is organised with victims, representatives of women’s groups and the local police on measures to prevent these practices.
Thanks to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), in 2017 Free Press Unlimited was able to continue with the professionalisation of Syrian media. At the end of 2016, Sida approved our new 5-year programme, which builds on the work we started in 2012. Also, in 2017, the aim of our Syria programme remained the same: ensuring media can provide reliable, independent and critical reporting for people in Syria. Free Press Unlimited offers the 8 partner organisations tailor-made training, workshops and masterclasses, depending on their needs and long-term strategy. The courses take place in neighbouring countries; for journalists in Syria we give online training in journalism skills and (digital) safety. A total of 267 journalists and media managers took our training, 28% of whom were women.
Thanks to their use of social media, videos and better quality stories, the number of online visitors increased for the participating media. They also made clear choices in 2017: the one specializes in videos and now has a very popular YouTube channel, the other concentrates on gender equality and makes more stories about women. Free Press Unlimited had their posts tallied based on 25 criteria, such as subject choice, fact and opinion, and whether women were adequately covered. In this way we help media to critically view and improve their own reporting: an important step in the professionalisation of Syrian media organisations.
Russian-language News platform
When the Russian-Language News Exchange was established at the end of 2015, we already suspected that it would be relevant for many in the region. But not that it would happen so quickly … In 2017, this joint venture of independent Russian-language media managed to double its potential reach from 20 million to 40 million people. The platform unites media serving Russian speaking readers in 7 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia.
Around 40 media professionals learned to deal better with a public that is accustomed to getting their news and information via social media. Together they exchanged more than 1,200 stories that found their way to readers and viewers throughout the region. A central editorial team coordinates and supports the exchange of stories, including data analyses and infographics – things that often cannot be funded by financially constrained media.
Increasingly, media produce more content together, across borders. They produce stories particularly about underexposed themes such as the social inequality, historical injustice to national minorities and other content that requires deeper journalism. But at the end of 2017 the Ukrainian Hromadske.tv also used Facebook to spread the story about the first dog who travelled into space – without a return ticket. An example of how the platform helps its media partners to creatively slip in serious subjects and experiment with advanced technology to make the platform attractive. After all, in the words of one of the news producers: ‘No matter how few resources you have, if your content is creative enough, you can reach millions of people in minutes.’
Their stories are catching on to such an extent that media partners are translating them to national languages of audiences they serve. An unintended – and positive – effect of the project: the articles and video now appear in six more languages. Several pieces have been translated into English giving a foreign audience access to information about the region as well. The Russian Language News Platform is co-financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.