Exploring challenges to press freedom across Europe

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 17.28.59A new graphic novel exploring challenges to press freedom across Europe and the impact of limitations on journalists has been released by the European Youth Press.

Free Our Media is the result of a collaborative effort over the course of several months by a team of young journalists and illustrators assembled from all over Europe by European Youth Press, and contains 14 comics, each story centred on the state of media freedom in a different country. The project was funded by the Council of Europe.

Planning for Free Our Media started in autumn of 2014, when the European Youth Press team began outlining which media advocacy issues the organisation would focus on in 2015. Press freedom was high on the list of priorities, given its recent deterioration in the EU and neighbouring countries, and the organisation’s resolve to tackle this particular issue was only heightened by the violent attacks on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The visual medium of the graphic novel was chosen in order to make the content more universal across borders and language barriers.

accessdenied“A written article would get shared by an audience that is already familiar with the topic of press freedom,” said European Youth Press board member and Free Our Media project coordinator Anna Saraste. “In the comic book, we communicate the topic with a visual medium that appeals to a broader public.”

Creating the graphic novel was a challenge from start to finish, not least because of the distance between the participants. The journalists, who are aged between 18 and 35 and collectively dubbed Media Freedom Ambassadors, met twice before the final workshop. During these events, the group developed tools for actively addressing limitations to press freedom. They also had the opportunity to organise events within their own communities, which allowed them to gather input from other journalists and young media makers about press freedom and its value in society.

Months of work culminated in Berlin in July 2015. During a five-day workshop led by artists Yorgos Konstantinou and Marcos Mazzoni, the group of journalists met with the cartoonists and, in pairs, planned the storylines for each comic. Following the end of the workshop, the group worked on their pieces separately, and kept each other updated on their progress via Facebook and Skype, said Jo Breese, a British illustrator and Sunday Times graphic artist who was selected as one of the cartoonists for Free Our Media.

“You can draw silly cartoons about serious matters, and it helps, and it gets the message across,” Breese said. “And I think that was important for a lot of the people who were there, whose countries don’t have very good press freedom. It gave them a platform to say what they wanted to say.”

The book’s varied stories and illustration styles made the creation of a cohesive graphic novel another significant challenge. The solution devised by the team was a common color scheme throughout, comprised of various shades of white, black, and orange.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 17.42.25

The completed graphic novel was officially released at the European Youth Media Days that took place in the European Parliament in Brussels from 20-22 October. Because the European Youth Press is a non-profit organisation, they must rely on donations to print, but soon hope to be able to start selling copies of the book online. While the book itself is a valuable tool for combating limitations on press freedom in Europe, Saraste is quick to emphasise that the real agents of change are young media makers.

“I wouldn’t focus so much on the book. I think what will be impacted for a long time are the ambassadors,” she said. “I think a lot has changed for them in terms of how they see their role as young media makers. Something in their attitude changed. They will have an impact on other people, wherever they go and wherever they decide to practice this profession.”

Following the completion of Free Our Media, the Media Freedom Ambassadors are continuing their activism by blogging for Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project, to which they will contribute reports about their own countries and act as references for the site.

You can preview the graphic novel here.

This article was published on 26 November 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

Map recording threats to journalists in Europe relaunches and expands to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus


Index on Censorship, the European Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are delighted to announce the expansion and redesign of Mapping Media Freedom, which records threats to journalists across Europe, and which will now also cover Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

First launched in May 2014, the map documents media freedom violations throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries including the Balkans and Turkey.

More than 700 reports were logged on the map in its first year, lifting the lid on the everyday threats to media freedom that have previously gone largely unreported or undocumented.

“Mapping Media Freedom has highlighted the kinds of threats faced by media organisations and their staff everyday throughout Europe — from low-level intimidation to threats of violence, imprisonment, and even murder. Having a detailed database of these incidents – most of which previously went unreported — helps us and others to take action against the culprits,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

The relaunched online platform will make it easier for policy makers and activists to identify trends in media freedom and to respond efficiently with immediate assistance or to campaign on specific issues. It also provides support such as legal advice and digital security training to journalists at risk. Anyone can submit their own reports to the site for verification by project officers.

“At a time when freedom of information is facing threats not seen since the times of the Soviet Union, supporting journalists and bloggers is crucial. While part of the continent is sinking in an authoritarian drift, online surveillance has become a common challenge”, said RSF Programme Director Lucie Morillon.

Following renewed funding from the European Commission earlier this year, the crowd-sourced map incorporates new features including country filters and an improved search facility. The project also aims to forge new alliances among journalists across the continent, especially young media practitioners who will find useful resources and in depth coverage on a dedicated “Free Our Media!” page.

In reaction to new draconian measures and violence in the region, the new design coincides with an expansion into Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. All new reports from this area will be available in English and the regional language.

“The enlargement of the monitoring process to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is good news for journalists and media workers in the region. Journalists are usually at the heart of violent demonstrations, clashes and armed conflicts where they may be shot, assaulted, kidnapped, arrested, abused and killed. They are facing difficult professional challenges between extremists or propaganda agents. Thanks to its affiliates, the EFJ will continue to document all media violations and raise awareness to end impunity when violations occur”, said Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President.

Partners, country correspondents and affiliates to the project — including Human Rights House Ukraine, Media Legal Defence Initiative and European Youth Press — will work together to ensure the growing threats to media freedom in the region are highlighted, and tackled.

For further information please contact Hannah Machlin, project officer,[email protected], +44 (0)207 260 2671


Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at https://mappingmediafreedom.org/