TOL at Forum 2000
The autumn months have always been recognized as a time of transitioning. For the past 17 years, however, Forum 2000 has demonstrated that there is more to the fall tradition of transition than the shifting weather patterns.
Co-founded by the legendary Czech President Václav Havel, Forum 2000’s annual fall conferences have brought the challenges, opportunities, and hopes of political transitioning to the world stage, making the lessons from the evolution from authoritarianism to democracy accessible for thousands of attendees.
For the second year in a row, TOL put together a panel discussion for the event: “How Has A Media in Transition Impacted the Transition of the Media in Post-communist Countries?” Guests included Marius Dragomir, main editor, Mapping Digital Media (MDM) Project; Christopher Walker, executive director, International Forum for Democratic Studies, National Endowment for Democracy; Amer Dzihana, Bosnia lead researcher, MDM Project; Alisher Sidikov, director, Radio Ozodlik (Uzbek Service), RFE/RL; and Mykola Riabchuk, a Ukrainian political and cultural analyst. TOL Executive Director, Jeremy Druker, moderated the discussion.
“I basically wanted all of us to step back and think over if the transformation of the media industry that has occurred concurrently with the transition of the media in post-communist countries has been a positive or negative,” Jeremy said. “On one hand, the explosion of Internet access has increased media plurality with all these new voices added to the mix, especially through social media. On the other hand, the increased pressures on traditional media have caused some to go down market, and all those new websites and social media users haven’t always been used responsibly, causing damages to societies in flux.”
Overall, the panelists expressed dismay over the current situation of the media and how effectively powerful business and political interests had retained their control, even with all the technological change. Still, there were some bright spots, especially in how some, such as RFE/RL’s Radio Ozodlik, were using a whole range of new media tools to bring news to light in repressive countries.
The 2013 conference, held in Prague and other cities from September 15-18, included 130 global leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The conference was open to the public, free of charge. Over 4,000 observers attended discussions, and even more were able to view many of the sessions online via live broadcast on the Forum 2000 website.
E-learning for Social Change
Two pilot online courses on Social Media for Social Change and Online Security we held in October as part of Transitions’ “Connecting the Dots” project. Co-financed by the International Visegrad Fund (IVF), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), these live courses were designed as the first in a series of activities that will result in comprehensive stand-alone courses on the same topics addressing the needs of civil society activists in the Eurasia region.
A total of 32 participants from across the region enrolled in the Online Security course, which was presented by TOL expert Emin Huseynzade. The Social Media for Social Change course, taught by Jaroslav Valuch, a leading international expert on social media and frequent TOL trainer, had 26 enrolled participants. Jaro covered topics such as the benefits of social media, the variety of methods and tools available, and choosing a social media strategy that best suits a group’s communication and campaign goals. Emin discussed the most common security risks, tools to stay safe, and the basics of censorship and circumvention.
These interactive courses were held in four 60-minute sessions over two weeks, with online interaction between the trainers and participants in between.
The project is implemented in partnership with ten organizations from across the region and with the Washington-based TechChange organization, our e-learning partner. TechChange is in the process of developing a multilingual e-learning platform for Transitions that will eventually feature dozens of online learning resources of interest for civil society activists in the Eurasia region and elsewhere.The platform will initially be available in Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Romanian (as well as English).
The project aims to put to full use the many useful online resources that organizations in Central and Eastern Europe have created over the years. These resources, though, tend to be scattered across various sites and are often used only for internal purposes without wider public accessibility or multiple language availability. Many organizations don’t yet have the technical capacity to be able to create their own e-learning systems. At the same time, e-learning would appeal to the many potential participants in training courses who also have day jobs and need a platform to learn on their own schedules.
Sometimes our trainees run into frustrating cases where they learn innovative new approaches, but then the “gatekeepers” – their bosses – prevent them from changing the status quo. The opposite, however, seems to be true for Tatuli Todua, who attended a TOL course in Prague on social media for NGOs back in 2010 and has been implemented the lessons learned ever since.
Tatuli works for the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a leading NGO dedicated to the promotion of human rights and rule of law in Georgia (GYLA was a recent finalist for the Council of Europe’s Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize).
“As a result of the training, awareness about social media importance and its functions was raised within GYLA,” she said. That changed the organization’sapproach to social media, she said, enabling GYLA to become more active online. That included the group’s participation in a major campaign – “It Affects You Too”– to support the creation of a better election environment. Based largely online, the campaign was very successful in gaining public attention and helped to push the Georgian parliament to make changes regarding elections and media.
In general,Tatuli said direct dialogue with society was “especially important in a politically polarized environment where traditional media are [only] partially covering topics and ‘spoil’ information in favor of one or another political group.
“Through using social media, we had direct contact with ordinary people,” Tatuli said. “We were answering their questions, debating with them. This participatory process created more trust from society. They received different, important information directly from us and felt that we were accountable before them …Better use of social media helps us to overcome the problem of being alone in the fight for human rights.”
Congratulations to Tatuli and compliments to her managers for taking her advice!
Transitions Online (www.tol.org) often showcases the work produced through our grant programs. Some of the highlights from September include the following stories:
4 October 2013
Gagauzia Sings the Union Blues
A small Moldovan region has the potential to complicate the country’s planned swing toward Europe.
By Natalia Ghilascu
18 October 2013
The Dramatic Rise and Fall of Mikheil Saakashvili
As he leaves the stage, many wonder how the passionate reformer gave way to the reviled megalomaniac.
By George Tarkhan-Mouravi
23 October 2013
Tashkent’s Cinephiles, in a Role That Will Surprise You
From Uzbekistan’s capital, a tale of films and film-lovers, finding each other.
By Dengiz Uralov
25 October 2013
Holier Than Thou
For Georgia’s presidential candidates, pleasing the patriarch seems to be synonymous with pleasing the public.
By Maia Edilashvili
30 October 2013
Testing the Teachers
Are Georgia’s educators really as bad as their shockingly high exam-failure rate suggests? A TOL special report.
By Molly Corso
Azerbaijan and Moldova
Promoting the use of new media and social media among journalists, civil society organizations, and young people.
Promoting the use of Internet media and new media techniques to produce, promote, and distribute new forms of content.
Improving the quality of environmental investigative journalism while increasing the impact of the environmental movement in Russia.
Using distance learning courses, workshops, and other resources to improve reporting on education-related topics.