Announcing the winners of the 2022 Syrian Co-Production Fund!

Co-Production collaboration on the ‘ticking time bomb’ of makeshift oil refineries in northwest Syria.

Free Press Unlimited is delighted to announce Syria Direct and Violet as the winners of the 2022 Co-Production Fund for their collaboration on the ‘ticking time bomb’ of makeshift oil refineries in northwest Syria.

In April, a total of seven partnerships between Syrian media outlets and civil-society organisations (CSOs) were selected to participate in the 2022 Co-Production Fund. The collaborations represented groups based inside Syria and abroad, with productions addressing the theme of ‘Economic Crisis and Resource Insecurity’. Following an intensive period of media and advocacy coaching, partners submitted their final productions to the jury to compete for the Co-Production Award.

The winning submission by Syria Direct and Violet includes detailed feature reports in both English and Arabic, photo stories, satellite footage and a press release investigating the various social, economic and environmental effects of makeshift refineries. 

“FPU’s grant was timely as the news was dominated by the Ukraine crisis,” explains Ammar Hamou, one of Syria Direct’s lead journalists about the outlet’s collaboration with Violet, an NGO working to highlight the voices of displaced Syrians. “As soon as the grant was announced with the subject of climate and economics, we decided to go ahead with our idea of the oil refineries.”

The bigger picture

As an ongoing economic crisis worsens already dire humanitarian conditions inside Syria, the theme encouraged partners to examine its many different social and material consequences for Syrians around the country. Participants were invited to adopt a broad approach to the subject in reporting the conditions of the crisis on the ground.

“Unfortunately, we Syrians working in journalism too often only focus on the most obvious superficial effects of something—the tears of a child, or a man suffering,” says Hamou. “But we never think of the bigger ongoing adverse effects. Here, we realised that there were many aspects of the story that had not been addressed.”

Among the under-examined aspects of the crisis in Syria is the demand the war economy has created for affordable fuel as well as opportunities for unregulated, perilous and exploitative industries like the makeshift refineries. As the winning productions highlight, hundreds such refineries have opened up in northeastern Syria, presenting temporary employment opportunities for local communities with few other sources of revenue. But the costs to employees are vast, with the toxic and dangerous working conditions described as ‘worse than on the frontline’.

Co-Production collaboration on the ‘ticking time bomb’ of makeshift oil refineries in northwest Syria.
Toxic and dangerous working conditions at makeshift oil refineries in northwest Syria.

Collaboration between CSOs and Media

Where the unregulated industry and unlicensed owners leave workers without the most basic forms of physical protection, Violet NGO is seeking to reduce health and environmental risks through educating workers about health and safety. The organisation is also working to create alternative temporary work opportunities for affected communities. 

Recognising that both media and CSOs play roles in building trust, accountability and social cohesion, the Co-Production Fund supports cross-sectoral initiatives that promote quality journalism and dialogue across Syrian society. The fund’s central pillars of inclusion, collaboration and coaching encourage partners to unearth new realities in the daily lives of Syrians.

Opening new dimensions

In particular, the 2022 project aimed to highlight the repercussions of economic insecurity for social inequality and vulnerable or under-represented groups. The resulting mixed-media productions reflected diverse takes on the theme, investigating issues from housing, water shortages and migration of healthcare workers, to mercenaries, sports and housing.  

With partners working across different geographic and political areas, the projects also documented the voices of diverse demographics, with the broader goal of promoting change at grassroots and policy levels.

As Hamou explains, “the CSO opens up new dimensions for journalists—it is the camera or eye that enables us to see things we could not have seen since we could not be present on the ground.”

The winning partners Syria Direct and Violet will be awarded with a further funding grant to continue their media and advocacy work. 

This year, no second or third prizes were awarded in the Co-Production Fund. Free Press Unlimited remains fully aware of the worsening conditions across Syria and for the displaced in neighbouring countries. It is committed through the Co-Production Fund to working closely with partners to assure a smooth production amid these challenges as well as a minimum quality of output and impact. The jury seeks to maintain a consistent standard of quality each year and to achieve collaborative ‘solutions’ - aims which this year were not considered to be fully met in the 2022 fund. Free Press Unlimited will continue supporting Syrian media outlets and CSOs towards these ends in the 2023 Co-Production Fund.

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