Representatives of the SEENPM member organizations gathered in Belgrade on 3 April for an annual meeting of the network’s General Assembly. The event took place against the backdrop of a deteriorating media and freedom of expression situation in many countries of Central and South East Europe. Along with dealing with a number of statutory issues, the participants considered possible network-wide actions to counter the negative trends affecting media integrity.
The assembly elected two new members of the SEENPM Board. Biljana Petkovska of the Macedonian Institute for Media and Maja Hadžiosmanović of Mediacentar Sarajevo replace Remzi Lani, director of the Albanian Media Institute and Ines Bamburać Alibašić of Mediacentar Sarajevo whose terms expired. The new board subsequently elected Biljana Petkovska as the new chairwoman.
The assembly also voted to admit the Media Diversity Institute Western Balkans (MDI WB) as a new network member. MDI WB is a Belgrade-based, independently registered organization that shares expertise with the London-based Media Diversity Institute. Ivana Jelača, executive director of MDI WB, presented the organization and its motivation for joining SEENPM. The goal of MDI WB is to contribute to the improvement of inter-community relations and facilitate responsible media coverage of diversity.
Tihomir Loza, SEENPM executive director, presented annual activities and financial reports for 2016. SEENPM projects coordinated by the SEENPM secretariat were highlighted, including a project on crisis reporting supported by the National Endowment for Democracy and an initiative supported by UNESCO to advance media and information literacy in the region.
Lessons learned from two large projects implemented by groups of SEENPM members were also discussed. Brankica Petković of the Peace Institute Ljubljana reflected on the four year project South East European Media Observatory, which was completed in late 2016. The project was focused on media integrity and included a range of media research and analysis as well as advocacy activities. Mihaela Danga of the Romanian Center for Independent Journalism talked about the four-year project South-East European Partnership for Media Development, which has three main pillars of research and advocacy activities: labour relations, freedom of expression, and media education. The project will be completed in November 2017.
Each member representative briefly presented current activities of their organization, with a wide range of research, monitoring, advocacy and journalism training and production projects and initiatives highlighted.
A session was devoted to media and information literacy, an area of increasing interest to many SEENPM members. In cooperation with UNESCO, the SEENPM secretariat and its members are currently implementing a number of MIL activities, including a process of national consultation on MIL with the Albanian Media Institute. The consultation, which featured interviews and meetings with a wide range of stakeholders in the country, will soon result in a position paper on the state of media literacy in Albania and a set of recommendations. At the GA meeting in Belgrade, Nevena Ršumović, SEENPM communications and admin officer, presented a website dedicated to advocating the interests of media users in the region. The website is being built in cooperation with UNESCO and will be a focal point for the activities of a Coalition of Information and Media Users in South East Europe, a new grouping coordinated by SEENPM. Tatjana Ljubić of UNESCO spoke at the session on UNESCO’s vision for improved media literacy in the region.
Another session was dedicated to SEENPM’s external communication and advocacy strategy, with member representatives discussing the most efficient ways to highlight key media and freedom of expression issues regionally and internationally. Among other things, the meeting concluded that the current online operations of the network secretariat should be further strengthened and that the network should soon consider country missions (perhaps in partnership with other organisations) as a vehicle around which wide-ranging advocacy on specific problems could be built.
The General Assembly meeting concluded with a captivating presentation of the freedom of expression situation in Turkey, introduced by Barış Altıntaş of P24 – Platform for Independent Journalism and Evren Gönül of Bianet. Altıntaş and Gönül focused in detail on the main and most drastic forms of pressures on the media and journalists, including an update on journalists in prison.
The general assembly was organized with financial support from IFEX, whose representative, Kyle Harris, took part in the meeting. The SEENPM secretariat and a number of SEENPM organisations are also members of IFEX.
Thanks to IFEX support, the general assembly participants subsequently benefited from a two-day training on planning for financial sustainability, held on 4 and 5 April. The training was delivered by Gail Leeder of the UK NGO Mango, an organization specializing in capacity building of other NGOs through strengthening their financial management and accountability. The purpose of the course was to build the confidence and skills of SEENPM managers to improve the financial planning of their organisations.