Breaking down the Walls: Artists and Journalists Send a Strong Warning of the Dangers of Complacency

By Tanya Sakzewski

Audiences were warned by artists and journalists not to stay silent when freedoms are under threat and encouraged to be proactive in tackling polarization and divisions in society at a public event in Warsaw, Poland, on 11 May.

The warnings came during the event, ‘Breaking Down Walls: Artists, freedom and social cohesion’ organized by the Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book Studies at the University of Warsaw, in collaboration with the Media Diversity Institute Global and with the support of the Museum of Modern Art.

Hanna Azemsha, a TV journalist and reporter from Belarus, who is working in Poland for Belsat TV, made a powerful warning about being complacent. She said change in her country didn’t happen overnight and people didn’t take it seriously at first. As a result, freedoms have been lost and many of her fellow journalists as well as opposition figures and activists are in jail. Reporters Without Borders highlighted in its 2022 Round-up that Belarus is one of the world’s top jailers of journalists with more than 30 behind bars.

Azemsha encouraged audience members to “take action every time you see freedom of expression being threatened. Don’t close your eyes when you see something wrong.”

It was a message repeated by other speakers at the event, part of the MEDIAdelcom project, exploring the role of the creative and media sectors in preserving freedom and promoting deliberation. 

Agata Szczęśniak, a journalist, sociologist, columnist and activist, who works for OKO.press a fact-checking and investigative journalism outlet in Poland, said people need to fight any actions that lead towards authoritarianism. She said presenting the facts and informing people about issues is not enough.

“There is a presumption that when facts are presented to people they become enlightened. It is not true.” Szczęśniak added that people read and absorb facts in the framework of their own culture and beliefs, but she still believes the media plays an important role in presenting the facts and making them available to the public. She urged people to support the media, especially independent media, to ensure its survival and ability to present responsible reporting.

Speakers agreed common ground was needed for deliberation to succeed and to tackle the problem of polarization, especially in Polish society.

Professor Andrzej Krakowski, a film director, producer, teacher, writer and cartoonist who lives in the US, spoke about his experience being expelled from Poland during anti-Semitic purges in 1968. He called for people to listen to each other and enter into dialogue to exchange ideas. “We can’t keep putting bandaids on wounds when we don’t understand where the wounds come from.”  Krakowski said there is an overload of information and media options, and people don’t know how to communicate.

Shady Lady, a Polish drag queen, artist and activist whose performances touch on the issues of the LGBTQ+ community, agreed it was important to listen and not just consume information. “For us in the LGBTQ+ community, we are open to discussion and to communicate and describe issues, but sometimes the other side doesn’t want to listen.” Shady Lady added that there was still a lack of respect for the LGBTQ+ community in the country.

In Poland, authorities in one-third of the country have adopted anti-LGBT resolutions since 2019, declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology” which includes so-called LGBT “free-zones”.  Some towns have since had their “zones” annulled by courts.

Shady Lady said polarization is the biggest issue facing society and the arts provide an avenue for connecting people. 

Michał Janicki, a painter, creative art director, and head of painters and animators in BreakThru Films in Poland, agreed art has a role to play in helping solve problems. He said artists can provide a space for people to meet and exchange ideas. “I think art can do a lot, we just need to be brave. Deliberation is possible if only we are willing to meet in the same room.”

Krakowski also appealed to the audience to listen to each other and be more proactive in solving problems. “The most effective way is to do. Let’s not push for change, let’s make change.” 

Dr. William Tayeebwa, Senior Lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University in Uganda, sent a video message saying freedom of expression was also under pressure in many African nations, but artists have been speaking out on issues including governance, human rights and freedom of expression. He urged artists in Europe to do the same. ”With the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, the work of artists and cultural figures is even more important to spread the message of love and empathy towards the other.”

The event also featured art by Warsaw University students including a digital photographic display, Freedom! Where are you? and a dance performance interpreting freedom.

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Consortium is fine-tuning the approaches in Sofia

The second semi-annual meeting of Mediadelcom in 2022 takes place in Bulgaria, at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

At such meetings, the consortium fine-tunes the concepts and variables for the research. This time, the first book details are being addressed, as well as the visions for comparative research among the 14 participating countries. Also, the agent approach and the resultant agent-oriented modelling is getting more focused as a tool.

The consortium is carefully listening to the feedback from the distinguished professors from the Advisory Board, Daniel Hallin and Kaarle Nordenstreng, and will adjust sail based on that.

Also the arrangements for intensified dissemination of the results have started to let the professional, academic and public audiences to get the load of the observations, conclusions and policy recommendations by the Mediadelcom project.

For more listen to the podcast episode 30.

Photo by Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

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Mediadelcom sets to case studies

Six months into the Mediadelcom project, the consortium members met in person for the first time in the second week of September in Tallinn, Estonia.

Three countries – Latvia, Estonia, and Bulgaria – had performed pilot studies to set common grounds for the fine-tuning of the operational variables and other aspects of the research methodology.

As Marcus Kreutler (DEU) told in the Podcast Episode #7, the pilot studies served as a reality check on what works well for the future study and what still needs some refinement. “The theoretical teams – who basically wrote the manual for the case study teams – have much clearer idea what works in their ‘recipe’ and what simply did not work in the reality of one country. This is a loud alarm bell when it comes to applying it to other countries.”

The consortium members interviewed for the podcast episode asserted that the discussions on the pilot studies provided much clearer grounds for combining theoretical work with case studies in practice, including searching and synthesizing the existing bibliography in risk analysis.

Over the course of four days, the teams discussed case studies to be drafted under WPs 2 and 3 by the beginning of 2022. The research methodology and structure of the studies were specified. As explained by the project coordinator Prof. Halliki Harro-Loit, the first case study should provide answers related to the potentiality of media transformations in 14 countries. The second, a comparative case study provides a critical analysis of the risks and opportunities for media transformations in Europe in general.

The project meeting in Tallinn ran parallel in the assembly hall and over the Internet.

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Mediadelcom people meet in person for the first time

Tallinn old town. Photo by Kaupo Kalda, visittallinn.ee

September brings us closer to autumn. In the global muddle of COVID-19, it has been unclear if Mediadelcom participants could gather in person. It is now clear that it is possible to get together: the consortium meeting (workshop) will take place in Tallinn (Estonia) on 7-11 September.

Through four days, the teams will discuss case studies. Three countries – Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria – have performed pilot studies to set grounds for the fine-tuning of the operational variables and other aspects of the methodology. Other discussion matters include how to apply fuzzy-set methodology and diachronic approach, how to relate the case studies and bibliographical database, and how to apply the agency approach.

Mediadelcom was launched in March 2021 and the members of the teams long  to see each other face to face to better perform networking tasks and get to know the colleagues all over Europe.  Further details will be reported soon.

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Report on sustainable journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa to be launched

The Embassy of Sweden in South-Africa together with partners will arrange a seminar launching a policy brief developed by a team of Swedish and African researchers and media practitioners who have jointly examined how independent journalism can be not only a leverage for democracy but also contribute to sustainable societies. And how media itself can develop new models for its own sustainability. One of these partners is also the MEDIADELCOM consortium member – Jönköping Universty, Sweden.

Meet the rapporteurs and follow the discussions around a new way of looking at journalism – called sustainable journalism, discussing about the future of journalism in a society marked by a lack of sustainability. Mark your calendars to watch the seminar online, held on Friday, 23 September 2021 between 14:00 – 15:00 hrs CEST/SAST Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels, Pretoria (UTC+2).

Online transmissions in social-media channels, in @fojo_int, and #SwedenInSA .

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