Thursday, May 7, 2020
Due to the spread of COVID-19, media in Eastern Europe find themselves in challenging new circumstances. In addition to already operating in an environment that was hostile to independent media long before this crisis emerged. However, despite living within strictly enforced lockdowns, many of them continue their vital task of bringing reliable news to the public, using new tools and formats.

How the corona crisis is dealt with differs greatly between countries in Eastern-Europe. In Belarus, the government is still downplaying the threat, Russia is dealing with a failing health care system but is attempting to hide this, and the government in Tadjikistan is still reporting zero cases. However, most countries are in enforced lockdowns, creating a new challenge for journalists.

Prominent independent media outlets in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia have shared with Free Press Unlimited how they innovate in formats and topics despite all challenges.

Cross-border selfie reports

To show what quarantine life in different European and Central Asian cities is like, journalists of nine media outlets united in a quest to produce selfie-video reports from 11 cities. The images of the empty streets and the personal contact with the journalist give the audience a useful insight into the impact of the pandemic in that specific country. It is a new way of bringing news from across the border at a time when countries are increasingly cut off from their neighbours and have turned their attention inwards. As the corona outbreak is a global problem, reliable information from countries around you is important. Knowing that so many people are experiencing similar struggles can also help you deal with the feeling of isolation. The resulting videos were shared by media in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Moldova.

Investigative reporting while in quarantine

A Georgia-based outlet Coda Story succeeded in bringing detailed reports from the frontline of the pandemic, while the reporters remain in quarantine. In Russia, the government exerts strict control over news coverage on the pandemic. Coda Story has exposed this political interference by reporting on how Russian healthcare first responders are being used in an ongoing disinformation campaign. Several healthcare employees told Coda Story anonymously that the smooth response broadcast on state television is a far cry from reality. They say many hospitals lack materials and training for the medical personnel. Read the full story here.

Isolation diaries

Our Eastern European partners are experiencing an increasing interest in their journalism during these times: their websites and social media are attracting growing numbers of reads and views. But it has been more difficult to inform people during quarantine. Moldova-based Newsmaker is using this time to connect with their growing audience in a new way. Each Newsmaker journalist wrote a ‘backstage’ diary about their life in quarantine, giving a unique insight into their work and personal life, while not being shy about the struggles they are experiencing. In this way, Newsmaker found a way to actively engage and build a relationship with their audience. After this series, Newsmaker continued to bring stories about life in quarantine, this time by collecting them from their readers.

Even during these challenging circumstances, the media must continue their important work of providing the public with reliable information. Free Press Unlimited will continue to support our partners in Eurasia to carry out this work.

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Podcast: Together for reliable information

Episode #3: Journalism during COVID-19 in Central Ameria. As a part of the campaign ‘Together for reliable information’ we are producing a series of podcasts to highlight the inspiring initiatives from our partners all over the world to keep bringing reliable information to the public. In every podcast one of our programme coordinators will talk about the latest news from our partners on the frontline. In this podcast we speak with Natalia Pirtac, Project Officer in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.