Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Independent media outlets from three Central American and five Eastern European countries have joined the Free Press Unlimited Viable Media for Empowered Societies (VIMES) project. The participants exchange skills and knowledge with the aim of strengthening their position in society.

The VIMES project addresses the deteriorating condition of independent media and journalists, female in particular, in Central America and Eastern Europe. The media outlets that have joined VIMES are based in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua. Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Due to their ground-breaking reporting and pro-democracy stance, these media outlets are under increased political and economic pressure and are at risk for their safety in their countries. To strengthen their position in society, these media outlets share their experiences, knowledge and content with each other.

First transatlantic meeting

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the reporting and viability of the collaborating media outlets. On 22 April 2020, media professionals from all eight countries shared how their newsrooms are coping with these challenges during their first transatlantic meeting with each other held on Zoom. The pandemic is negatively influencing media in the region and there are also similarities in how the various governments are responding. For example, both the Nicaraguan and Belarusian governments deny the existence of the COVID-19 crisis, and there are similar stories concerning corruption and authoritarianism.

Free Press Unlimited support

Free Press Unlimited facilitates the transatlantic cooperation and exchange of knowledge. This makes it easier for the media outlets to share each other's content. For example, the report from El Faro about people using white flags as a cry for help during quarantine, was republished by Euroradio (Belarus), Coda (Georgia), and Ziarul de Garda (Moldova). Free Press Unlimited also shares its experience and expertise to help the media outlets improve the quality of their content and increase audience engagement. One way to do that is by producing and distributing innovative content, formats and practices. The partners learn to re-package some of their stories from a traditional written format, into a multimedia format. An example of this is the article from Armenian media house CivilNet, that uses video to describe how farmers were forced to send livestock to slaughterhouses, owned by the families of government officials.

Free Press Unlimited also organises training. In March, seven female journalists from Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia participated in a practical safety training, focused on physical safety. The female journalists learned how to avoid arrest, deal with interrogation, and react appropriately in case of an office search.

Hosting a session at RightsCon

On 30 July, experts from the media outlets that have joined VIMES, will host an online session at RightsCon, the world's leading event on human rights in the digital age. Drawing from their own experience, they will discuss different forms of audience engagement and business models that work for independent media. The international platform will also be used to raise awareness and increase the support of the international community.

Photo above article: El Faro - Carlos Barrera.