Central and Eastern European journalists collaborate to counter propaganda

par Judith Langowski
30 oct 2018 dans Investigative Journalism
Following the money

Andrej Babis' recent election as the Czech Republic's prime minister was just the latest instance of Central and Eastern European countries going down a populist path. But people living in these neighboring countries often do not know enough about each other to recognize and effectively counter similar populist developments. Cross-border collaboration between journalists, especially by building long-lasting networks and common publishing platforms, is important to make information about political developments, social movements and corruption available to a wider regional audience.

PoliticalCritique.org (PC) was founded with the aim of creating a common platform for independent journalism in Central and Eastern Europe. Initially, four partner media organizations were involved: Krytyka Polityczna from Poland; the Hungarian blog Kettös Mérce (now the news portal merce.hu); the progressive bi-weekly Czech cultural magazine A2larm; and Pole, an independent left-wing blog from Slovakia. This year, PC teamed up with the pan-European network European Alternatives and started collaborating with even more media organizations, including The Press Project from Greece and Spain’s Contexto.

While about half of the articles are written directly in English for PC, the remaining are published first in the partner media outlets before being translated and edited by native English speakers. Translation into English amplifies the reach of the content, not just to readers from the region, but to a wider global audience. However, the increased distribution requires a balancing act between highlighting insights delivered by well-informed journalists from either country, while giving enough context for readers who might not be as versed in the current events or context of a specific nation.

In times of deep distrust in media and with state media channels thriving on propaganda, cross-cultural and cross-border networks between journalists add much needed diversity to the media landscape. But even in more balanced media environments, like Germany, having correspondents represented in the mainstream and giving a more nuanced picture of the political realities in Eastern European countries is important.

N-ost is one network that takes on this task of bringing new voices and perspectives to German newspapers. Its mission is to “fill in the blind spots about Eastern Europe to foster a better understanding for the region,” explained Christian-Zsolt Varga, n-ost’s social media and community manager. What started as an email subscription service to several dozen newspapers, distributing articles by foreign correspondents based in countries from Poland to Kazakhstan, has expanded to a media nongovernmental organization with projects that include training investigative journalists in Georgia and coordinating and editing the daily pan-European press review eurotopics.net.

But the focus is on the collaborative network. “From the beginning, we wanted to enable journalists to get together and create a network for collaboration and exchange,” Varga said. The membership allows journalists to find others who work on similar topics or countries, publish articles on the Listserve or online magazine ostpol.de and freely access all articles published there. Through the online magazine, authors can disseminate their work to a wider, non-German-speaking audience: Articles are translated into English, Russian and, depending on capacities, other Eastern European and Central Asian languages and published on other media platforms.

The benefit of such a collaborative network goes further than just making content available for a wide, multilingual audience. Building up an international network of journalists and creating a community for collaboration is essential for sustaining independent cross-border investigations. Both Political Critique and n-ost are nonprofit organizations, funded by grants, donations and membership fees, helping to maintain that independence.

These initiatives are just two noteworthy examples of cross-border collaborative journalism in Europe that defy the barriers imposed by populist politics on the media. Many more exist, like VSquare, which unites investigative journalists from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, or Investigate Europe, a team of nine journalists from eight European countries that uncover Europe-wide issues together and then publish stories in their respective countries.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Marco Verch.