DW Akademie's Space for Freedom project supports media professionals from Belarus and helps them build a new future in exile.
Since the beginning of mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko's regime in August 2020, freedom of expression in Belarus has been under acute pressure. Currently, the country lies toward the bottom ofReporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index ranking, at 153 out of 180 countries. Critical reports about the government are deliberately suppressed, hundreds of journalists have already been threatened or arrested and some have been sentenced to long prison terms. Many have therefore decided to flee the country. At the same time, exile media and editorial teams are becoming increasingly important to continue to provide the people of Belarus with reliable information.
The Space for Freedom project offers scholarships and consultations for journalists who are leaving Belarus. The project also includes an educational program that provides media professionals in exile with training and technical support to establish independent Belarusian media in exile. Together with Press Club Belarus, DW Akademie is currently implementing the pilot phase of the project, from September to December 2022.
In addition to a stipend providing basic support, participants also receive practical assistance, for example, in applying for visas, finding housing and opening a bank account, as well as legal advice, along with a workplace in the "MediaPort Belarus" co-working space in Warsaw.
"The program helped me make the decision to emigrate to Poland legally with a Polish visa, without claiming refugee status or international protection, which was my original plan, because I thought I had no other option. But thank God it turned out I did have another," commented one participant, who remains anonymous for security reasons. "Also, part of the scholarship I received covered the second month of living in Warsaw (rent and meals). There was also a lot of psychological support and practical advice from MediaPort managers and guest coaches, for which I am very grateful."
Another participant suggested improvements for the development of the project. "It is worth having a designated person on the team with experience in relocation and acclimatization for a particular country, who could assist the group of relocators during the program in finding housing (at least at the initial stage), in matters of obtaining legal status and in dealing with local financial, public and social institutions."
To enable media professionals to continue their education and professional work while in exile, an online learning platform has been developed and made available. It contains explanatory videos and tutorials, materials and assignments, memos and further links, which are all accessible on demand.
Participating journalists can create their own work profile, take part in regular training sessions and submit assignments. In addition to Space for Freedom scholarship holders, media professionals who left Belarus some time ago and are specifically looking for further training opportunities can also take part in the training courses.
The course consists of a total of four training modules, which occur over a period of 16 weeks. Topics include psychological and technical safety, digital media strategy (audience analysis and social media management), media formats and digital tools, and video production. The trainings usually take place online.
One of the current participants, also anonymized for security reasons, particularly appreciates the exchange with media professionals who are in a similar situation. "Firstly, for those who have just arrived, the program has become a kind of anchor or fulcrum. It has helped to resolve our financial issues, which allowed us to focus on professional ones. Secondly, it gave us the opportunity to improve our skills, and to therefore increase our capacities and stay in the profession. Thirdly, it gave us methods so we could work on our own problems and self-improvement. And, finally, it provided communication with colleagues and others, which is of great importance, since the risk of depression after relocation is quite high."
The technical component of the project is intended to strengthen and sustain the functionality and security of editorial offices and media in exile, while expanding opportunities for potential target groups to access their content. To achieve this, an organizational and technical media survey and audit was developed. The pilot project has selected various independent media that are currently forced to work in exile.
The aim is to identify and record problems in current processes and procedures. The audit will help editorial teams target their content and better reach their audiences. Security issues are also at the forefront of the project, which are fundamental to editorial work in exile.
The audit will be followed by an evaluation and concrete recommendations to help the editorial teams as they navigate their current and future challenges. Experts will address these in cooperation with employees of the editorial team, who can then eliminate weaknesses and jointly employ the necessary tools to keep their media viable.
DW Akademie is implementing the Space for Freedom project as a network partner of the German government's Hannah Arendt Initiative. With this initiative, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media support journalists, media professionals and defenders of freedom of expression, in crisis and conflict zones and in exile.