Workshop for active citizens

Ökotárs and With the Power of Humanity Foundations held the first cross-sectoral workshop in the framework of their joint project with Civil College and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union on June 11 in Pécs with the title ’Civils, media and elections’. The event, the first one organized in live, in-person format after a long time, was attended by journalists of local, national and Central European news portals and newspapers as well as members of civil society organizations (CSOs) and activist groups mainly from around Pécs and Southern Hungary, around 40 people in total.

The workshop discussed potential links and cooperation between CSOs and media outlets on the one hand, and the opportunities and problems of the ever-shrinking independent media sector on the other – with special attention on the upcoming (preliminary) elections.

The morning session was started with presentations from three representatives of activist networks from Gyál, Miskolc and Szentendre which had been active during and around the 2019 municipal elections and achieved successes e.g. by candidating independent civic representatives in the city assemblies or by monitoring the fairness of the elections, and plan to continue this working in the future, too. The most important lessons of their campaigns were that in order to be successful, activists need to regularly talk to and keep in touch with the local people, and also that they need to train themselves, to learn the tools and methods of community activation and engagement.

After the presentations, participants in three small groups could discuss with representatives of local online media from 6 cities – Debreciner,, Kapos-T,, Szabad Pécs and Szegeder . The focus was on how local journalists and civic activists can help each other: the former can and should give visibility to local civic initiatives or protests, as was the case in the controversy around electing the director of the local theatre in Szombathely. But sometimes, journalists can uncover interesting and relevant stories based on information from civils, as it happened with the inordinate price increase of the Szeged spa. Participants also received some concrete advice about how they can make their own materials more interesting to media – it was mentioned that journalists can often figure out where a press release comes simply from by its style: CSOs typically tend to use too much pathos, while the journalist would be more interested in plain facts.

After the networking lunch, the event was continued with three panel discussions. The first, attended by journalists from 444, Átlátszó and Szabad Pécs discussed the potential role of civil activists in investigative and fact-finding journalism. According to Eszter Katus from Átlátszó “many issues would not receive publicity without the help of CSOs, as most of them perform functions that the state neglects or omits. They also have a role in the control of power”. She mentioned K-Monitor as an example, whose Red Flags application provides great help to journalists working on public procurement.s She also added that media has an obligation towards CSOs, too, to provide them with needed visibility.

The second paned dealt with the links between local and national media with the participation of journalists from Debreciner, Szabad Pécs, as well as Magyar Hang and Telex. According to Zsolt Porcsin Zsolt, editor-in-chief of Debreciner “if a historian at the end of the 21st century wanted to learn about how people in the countryside lived only from the national media, he would think that local people crashed lorries in houses, set their backyards on fire all the time and loved cute small animals”. While this was an exaggeration, speakers agreed that the lack of cooperation, in terms of the re-publishing and referencing of local news is a long-standing and acute problem. One solution could be to re-build the networks of local correspondents – while there are attempts in this direction, the lack of resources is a great obstacle.

Although a sudden shower caused some setback in the online streaming of the event, with a little fewer people it could eventually finish with the third panel, featuring journalists from the Slovakian and the Serbian Autonómia/NDNV new sites who talked about the relations between CSOs and the media in their countries – unsurprisingly showing many similarities with the situation in Hungary. In Serbia, parallel media worlds have been built, while in Slovakia the murder of Jan Kuciak in 2018, and the following mass protests were the decisive events of the recent past.

The event was supported by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme of the EU.