Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union


IFJ project work has been heavily focused on South East Europe, former Yugoslavia and the neighbouring Balkan countries through the Media For Democracy in South East Europe programme. Further activities have taken place in other Central and East European countries with a recent focus on the Ukraine and the Southern Caucasus. In Kyrgyzstan a pilot project established the first independent journalists union in Central Asia and significantly raised the IFJ’s profile in the region.

All activities have been overseen from Brussels by the Director of the IFJ Project Division Oliver Money-Kyrle and closely co-ordinated with the European Federation of Journalists.

Media for Democracy in South East Europe - MFDSEE

When the MFDSEE programme was launched in October 2000, journalists were still struggling with reporting conflicts, ethnic divisions and political extremism. Media development was heavily focused on journalism training, (e.g. human rights / diversity reporting) independence (mostly reeling back the control of the state over the media) and building professional solidarity on both social end ethical issues.

Although the conflict in Macedonia in 2001 seems to have been the last site of the cycle of violence, ethnic tension in Bosnia and Kosovo remains serious and still occasionally spills over into hostility. While the consequences of these problems remain, they are rapidly being replaced by the threats to standards and conditions from highly competitive and commercial markets dominated by foreign publishing houses.

In the face of these problems the three-year MFDSEE project was established which focused on union building, legal assistance, transformation and defence of public broadcasters, self-regulatory systems, human rights and conflict reporting and safety. It was supported by the European Commission with donations from the Swedish LO-TCO, the Council of Europe and the Open Society Institute.

Below is a country by country summary of activities taken under MFDSEE. For a full overview of the original programme click here

And for detailed reports of the MFDSEE activities click Journalists Newsline

Bosnia Herzegovina: The IFJ conducted a series of missions during the period including three trade union workshops in April/ May 2003, organized with BiH unions and the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists. Bosnia remains the most divided nation in the region with the journalists’ organisations and media clearly reflecting this split. Unlike almost all the neighbouring countries BiH has very limited investment from foreign media and most remain dependent on political parties or donor funds. There is however concern over the position of Serbia’s Pink TV that has recently invested in a number of private broadcasters In Republika Srpska.

Croatia: The Trade Union of Croatian Journalists, TUCJ, hosted a regional meeting in Croatia in October 2002 on the role of unions in defending journalists’ rights. (62 participants, including 24 women). The final declaration forms the basis of the follow-up project in the region and can be found here

The TUCJ is one of the strongest unions in the region having negotiated a series of agreements with media including those with large foreign investments. The project has drawn on the experience of the TUCJ for workshops in neighbouring countries. Increasingly they now have the same employers but do not enjoy the same conditions. It is currently negotiating a national agreement. One of the keys to its strength has been a very successful legal advice service for journalists that the IFJ helped support.

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: The IFJ organized three workshops on ethics and professional standards from October 2001 to July 2002 with the Journalists Association of Macedonia, JAM. The IFJ also sent 10 flak jackets, 150 medical kits in 2001, and launched a Macedonian version of Live News in 2003. A trade union seminar was organized in March 2003 and a human rights reporting workshop in July 2003. In 2001 the JAM was a virtually redundant organization, but new leadership and a successful reform programme has helped turn it around. In 2001 the print media in Macedonia was riven by divisions – today it is almost entirely owned by one company, the Westdeutscher Algemeine Zeitung WAZ.

Kosovo: It proved extremely difficult to produce any sustained support for journalists in Kosovo over the period due, in part, to the weakness of the associations. Three missions were organized in November 2001, May 2002 and September 2003 where the Albanian version of Live News was launched at a safety seminar. A new association has now emerged and was admitted to the IFJ in November 2003.

Montenegro: The Independent Trade Union of Journalists organised a very good series of workshops during the period on the status of journalists (July 2001), collective bargaining (February 2002), public broadcasting (July 2002) and freelances (January 2004) and also benefited from the legal assistance programme.

Serbia: The divisions in the Serbian journalists’ community remain deep and attempts to promote co-operation were often frustrated. During the congress period four missions were organized around trade union and status of journalists issues in September / October 2001, February and May 2002. Both German unions the Ver.di and the DJV attended workshops in Belgrade following the purchase of the former state printing house Politika, by the WAZ group. In May the IFJ public broadcasting committee visited to assess the crisis facing the transformation of the state broadcaster, RTS, into a public broadcaster. It was followed by a national meeting in July. (Over 50 participants, 20 women). A full report is available on the Public-Broadcasting-forall. A safety-training workshop was also organised in Sept 2003 with the launch of the Serbian version of Live News.

Slovenia: An investigative journalist, Miro Petek, was brutally beaten in February 2001 following a series of reports on local corruption. Despite initial assurances from the police the investigation failed to make a single arrest. The Slovenian Journalists Association led a vigorous campaign on the case and called for IFJ assistance. In April 2002, the IFJ sent a mission to review the failed investigation, followed by a Brussels press conference and a series of protests. In October 2002 the IFJ also supported a workshop on freelances with the Slovenian Journalist union and an EFJ meeting on Authors Rights in October 2003.

Romania: A trade union and legal assistance programme was launched in January 2001 with the Romanian Journalists Society, SZR, and since then five missions were organized in May and September 2001, March 2002, and March and September 2003. The SZR ran a successful recruitment programme with a number of further workshops throughout the country. Since the summer of 2003 it has been involved in negotiating a national collective agreement due to be signed at the end of March 04. If successful the credit will go to the leadership of the SZR who made the most of the resources the project provided. The Romanian version of Live News was launched in September 2003.

Albania: The IFJ organized a human rights reporting workshop in May 2003 as part of the preparation of the Human Rights Reporting: A handbook for journalists’ in South East Europe (PDF) with the Albanian Media Institute. The Albanian version of Live News was also launched in September 2003.

Bulgaria: The project supported the Bulgarian Media Observatory, a joint venture between Union of Journalists of Bulgaria-Podkrepa and the Union of Bulgarian Journalists. The media observatory organized a series of seminars on ethics and self-regulation, produced regular monitoring reports on the media content and press freedom and ran a strong campaign on the reform of public broadcasting. Five missions were organized during this period in September and October 2001, March and July 2002 and January 2004. Bulgarian print media is also dominated by the WAZ publisher.

Czech Republic: Another media observatory was set up in the Czech Republic. Regular reports were produced on ethics and press freedom issues. In particular it launched a strong campaign against the monopoly that a group of foreign publishers had over the distribution system. Two seminars were also organized, ethics and self-regulation, October 2001, and a regional seminar on Protection of Sources, May 2003. (75 participants, 29 women). See the IFJ – Europe Web page.

Hungary: The IFJ Public Broadcasting Campaign in Central and South East Europe was launched at a regional meeting in Budapest, February 2002. There were several follow-up activities including meetings in Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia. The broadcasting sector has proved a major battleground between the European model of Public Broadcasting and US support for commercial channels. State owned broadcasters are struggling to survive the turmoil of transition and the liberalization of the airwaves.

A full report is available on the Public-Broadcasting-forall.

Beyond the MFDSEE project, the IFJ also organized the following:

Belarus: One seminar was organized on journalists’ rights, October 2002, with the Belarus Association of Journalists and an expert from the German union Ver.di. (53 participants, 19 women). Since then the situation in Belarus has deteriorated and media activities involving foreign donors have been banned. The Council of Europe supported it.

Ukraine: The IFJ conducted two missions in March and December 2003. The missions focused on the status of journalists, the union and the case of murdered journalist, Gyorgy Gongadze, outlined in the report Unity for Justice, the challenge of change for journalism in the Ukraine which provided the basis of a trade union project for 2004, to be supported by the Open Society Institute. The Swedish Journalists Union are also seeking support from SIDA for the project.

Southern Caucasus: The IFJ organised a ten-day mission to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia to examine the status of journalism, the unions and ethical standards in April 2002. See the report Promoting independent and ethical Journalism in the Southern Caucasus. It was supported by the Council of Europe.

Central Asia: Activities in Central Asia were launched with a regional meeting on union development and public broadcasting supported by the FES in Almaty, Kazakhstan, February 2002. (Over 30 participants, 10 women).

Kyrgyzstan: Following the Almaty meeting, the IFJ launched the Kyrgystan trade union project. Salla Kayhko, a journalist and expert from Finland worked with the Public Association of Journalists to establish the Kyrgystan Union of Journalists. It was officially launched in September 2002 and held its second national meeting in November 2003. In between it also organized a meeting on safety, gender and diversity in the Fergana valley with visiting journalists from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. (20 participants, 3 women.)

Tajikistan: The same project organized a seminar in Tajikistan in May 2003 the IFJ later attended another meeting on journalists unions in September 2003 with the OSCE.

Future programme:

An EFJ report, Eastern Empires: Foreign Ownership in Eastern European Media published in March 2003 reveals the staggering dominance of foreign companies in Eastern Europe. European Publishers, particularly German, dominate print media ownership throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Publishers such as the Westdeutscher Algemeine Zeitung, WAZ, own major papers in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In Bulgaria they own 70% of the circulation of national dailies and in Macedonia virtually all national papers are WAZ owned. In broadcasting the commercial channels are also heavy with foreign, including US, investment. Many journalists initially welcome the investments for bringing greater security and financial independence from political forces. However, the sheer dominance raises serious questions regarding diversity of information, editorial independence and basic workers rights. While there is little current evidence of direct interference in the editorial policy of national papers, the potential for abuse of some near monopolies, is enormous.

In this region, it can generally be said that Media have largely won their freedom and independence. Certainly there has been considerable progress in many countries regarding media laws, alternative sources of information and greater independence from politics in general. However, if the media have won their freedom, the situation facing many journalists has, if anything, deteriorated. The numbers forced into irregular or freelance employment is rising rapidly, they are poorly trained, and have few rights over their work or at their work place. With some notable exceptions the journalists unions remain weak, have failed to recruit among the younger generation of journalists and are unprepared to take up labour issues.

The priority for the IFJ projects division and the European Federation of Journalists is to build unions and strengthen links with unions in the subsidiaries of the same company.

In Former Yugoslavia a project has been secured to run a series of workshops on trade union development. It will also use the presence of the WAZ group to build links between the Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Macedonian journalists’ organisations.

Further east, however, journalists’ rights in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are in retreat against increasingly authoritarian governments. Belarus has banned many foreign donations for media work and the Ukraine is monitoring the use of foreign donations particularly in the presidential election year. In Russia the independent broadcast media have all but disappeared.

In Central Asia there has been a gradual or not so gradual retrenchment of control over the media by the authorities since the mid nineties. Kazakhstan was seen as one of the freer countries in the region, but has since retreated as the family and friends of the president dominate private media and independent journalists are intimidated or imprisoned. Kyrgyzstan remains the freest of the five Central Asian countries but is subject to ongoing pressures.

Given the proximity of Afghanistan and the jostling for space and influence between the US and Russian military, the policy of these two countries will be crucial to the future direction of the region. Key will be the balance that they chose to strike between supporting democracy and ignoring suppression in exchange for security.