On November 26th 2018, International Media Support (IMS), Nyt Europa and CISU hosted a screening of the documentary film “Courage – Journalism is not a crime” and debate between Tomasz Pjatek, a Polish journalist, Tom Heinemann, a Danish documentarist and journalist, Gulnara Akhundova and Henrik Grunnet, both from International Media Support. 


The event started out by commemorating Syrian journalist, Raed Fares, who had been attacked and killed just Friday prior to the event. He was a prominent journalist and media activist who had been instrumental in providing critical news inside of Syria and to the outside world. Fares is one out of many journalists who have been killed in 2018. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, attacks on journalists is the number one violation against civic space faced worldwide.  


Billede1IMSThe documentary and speakers at the event underlined that media undertake an important role as the cornerstone of any democratic society. But media is to an increasing degree being targeted by authoritarian regimes and illiberal democracies. “Foreign agents”, “traitors” and those with a “hidden agenda” are labels frequently used against them. The polish journalist and winner of the Reporters without Borders’ Media Freedom Press Award, Tomasz Piatek explained how he had been exposed to harassment himself. Through several articles and a book, Piatek showed how the Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz had close relations with persons linked to the Russian intelligence services. “As a consequence I was prosecuted for terrorism before a military court and was attacked in the pro-government media,” Thomas Piatek told the audience. 


Gulnara Akhundova, Head of Global Response at IMS explained how restrictions to civic space can lead to discontent and extremist views, thus it is important that Western governments send a clear, synchronized message reaffirming the legitimate role of civil society. This can for instance be done by engaging directly with civil society during VIP visits to countries with restricted civic space, as well as standing firm on domestic and international rules. Gulnara Akhundova said: “Rules are only rules if there are consequences for not following them”


Billede2IMSCivil society, including media, can also do a lot on their own to ensure the upholding of civic space. For instance, they must work with local actors to monitor and report threats, help them collect data and package it for global audiences through international media and towards governments. Independent media, must also develop stronger alliances with each other in order to act in solidarity when partners are hit by crackdowns. Tom Heinemann said on this matter: 


“We need to be much better at working cross-border as media. The investigating and journalistic cooperation across borders can help expose the facts and the truth hidden from the public.”


Cooperation could include building up both physical, cyber and cognitive resilience as well as facilitating safety training and psychological support. 


Civil society and media can sometimes have limited access to some countries in which case government involvement from the outside is necessary. Capacity development-training, networking, twinning, exchange of experience and bringing local actors to international fora through conferences and study tours are some of the tools that governments can use if financial support to civil society in the specific country is not possible. This is the case in several countries where civic space is very restricted or completely closed.  


Multi-stakeholder dialogue between civil society, governments, international organisations, media and private sector was also mentioned as a vital opportunity to gather relevant actors together. It could be a win-win opportunity for companies and civil society if the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and especially civic space, are successfully linked to companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).   

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