Recap: Launch event COVID-19 Response in Africa (financed by the European Union)

On 28 September (International Day for Universal Access to Information) our new project COVID-19 Reponse in Africa: Together for Reliable Information was launched. More than 105 people, journalists, media professionals and outlets, consortium members, EU delegates and representatives from the Democratic Governance Sector at the European Commission (DG DEVCO), attended the event.

Below you can find all the materials (speeches from the keynote speakers, a short video testimonies from partners involved in the project, and a recording of the call itself) shared during the launch.

To know more about the key pillars of the project, see this post.

Recording of the Zoom call

COVID-19 Response in Africa: video testimonies from partners involved in this project

Keynote from Thomas Millar (DG DEVCO – European Union)

Thomas Millar

Head of the Democratic Governance Sector at the European Commission (DG DEVCO)

Our objective with this contract is to offer rapid support to journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa to resist the COVID-19 crisis, and more generally the obstacles which media faces. Some 45% of the value of the contract is direct financial support to journalists and media houses.
Our second objective is to cement the link between EU Delegations, local media houses and journalists and media organisations. The Delegations are on the call, they are eager to find out the partners for each country.
There are four other projects from Instrument Contributing for Stability and Peace, of 13.5M euros, in the same areas. We are in constant contact with the responsible colleagues, I think they are on the call.

Thank the partners for having put a proposal together very fast. Thank you also to Colleagues in Delegations for their interest and for having participated in coordination efforts.

The message we want to pass loud and clear: we have here the colleagues from Delegations, the local partners, the international partners. Please coordinate through the Delegations. They are the ones who can ensure complementarity with other projects and give you precious advice. Laura Bretea remains the Brussels based project manager, she will be in charge for the overall coordination.

Keynote from Leon Willems (Free Press Unlimited)

Leon Willems

Director of Policy and Programmes at Free Press Unlimited

Good morning and a warm welcome to all of you. A special word of welcome for the representatives of EU delegations, staff at DG DEVCO and the EEAS, as well as the various UNESCO offices in Sub Sahara Africa. And a very warm and special warm welcome to all of our partners, the media outlets, the fact checkers, the journalists and those who protect them, including our dear consortium members.

Let me talk to you about this year’s theme for the International Day for Universal Access to Information or Right to Information Access of Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!

We thank UNESCO for choosing this theme as it sums up the enormous challenge that we identify jointly as a need this year and we applaud them for acknowledging the enormous task of providing quality information to the people in Africa. Information that can save lives, prevent panic and disinformation and reach vulnerable communities. The project we launch today COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information is rooted in that same spirit.

The information response is dearly needed at a time when the world’s death toll as a result of the COVID-19 virus has risen to nearly a million deaths, more then 30 million confirmed cases and all of that in the midst of other problems that haunt the continent as if the pandemic was not enough to worry about; the locusts in East Africa, water floods in the Sudan, democracy in crisis in the Sahel, scores of new and old IDP’s and refugees in the most populous nations.

Access to information, good reliable, trusted and well sourced information is a leverage point for all of these problems. Bad information costs lives, good information saves lives. Independent journalism has never been in higher demand than this year. Quality journalism providing trusted news to populations at risk is appreciated and increasing their audiences.

But the economy is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result advertisement revenues are falling, journalists are sacked from news media and freelancers are continuing their work underpaid or not paid at all. On top of that news gathering and freedom of movement and expression for journalists in many countries in Africa are hampered or restricted. This is a situation in which manipulative information, disinformation and rumours can spread more easily, creating false accusations against vulnerable segments of the population, spreading malicious treatments as solutions and leaving people unaware of what to do best.

That is something we want to address in this project by rapid support to keep important media outlets alive and monitor and address false information and violations of press freedom. Together for reliable information also shows our determination to stand in solidarity, to work jointly and to work decisively to combat the information deficits and support those media and information efforts that serve the forgotten, the down trodden and the unconnected.

In a very short notice we created a consortium with major international media and development and press freedom organisation in Europe: UK-based Article 19, German Deutsche Welle Akademie, the Swiss Fondation Hirondelle, our Danish friends from International Media Support, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Free Press Unlimited with headquarters in the Netherlands. And of course UNESCO as associate partner who will join our efforts in the field of monitoring and policy recommendations. Thanks for joining and acting jointly.

On behalf of the consortium I would like to thanks EU DG DEVCO for embarking in this effort. First of all for acknowledging the need to act, second for acting quickly and decisively but most importantly for convincing everybody that we need to do something NOW for Africa in support of media actors there, while many member states have not reacted so promptly as you have.

As some of you know this is a project of 18 months. Why not longer? First of all, we hope of course that the COVID-19 crisis will find other remedies in order to save lives like a vaccine. But the crisis is now, so we need to act now. So as coordinator of this consortium we ask our partners and all other stakeholders not to wait but to do their utmost to continue producing articles, radio programs, jingles, documentaries etcetera to provide relevant and trustworthy information to the population in Africa.

Some of you will ask why only in Africa? Its true that other countries like Brazil and India are also hard hit by the pandemic. But do not forget that also South Africa is between top 10 most affected, followed by Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries with dense populations. In the video from one of our partners in Burkina Faso called ‘Die from hunger – die of starvation’ we saw that a lot of people do not have a choice during the lockdown. What to do with advice of washing hands when you live in a neighbourhood without tap water? How to deal with social distancing when you need to go to work in one of those hundred thousands taxi buses you see all over Africa? It will save lives when journalists report on all aspects of the COVID-19 crisis and provide their audience with relevant information.

We have not seen all about the COVID-19 crisis in Africa. Statistics are less readily available but we can assure you, the pandemic is creating havoc. In some countries the number of verified COVID-19 cases are rather low… but how sure can we be with the low degree of transparency and free access to information?

And let us never forget countries like South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and the Eastern part of DRCongo, affected by decades of civil war, violence where numerous people live in IDP camps. In this new project we try to reach out to them.

So, thanks EU also for this welcome and timely event and glad that we are here all together with representatives of 17 EU delegations, our African partners, logins from all over Africa to join us today. We wish them a lot of success with their productions on COVID-19 and continue to provide information.

And I am completely convinced that if we all work together, we will make a success of this project and make a difference…

Keynote from Aïssatou Barry (Fondation Hirondelle-Guinea)

Aïssatou Barry

Fondation Hirondelle´s Referent in Guinea for the project InfoCovid-19

I am Aïssatou Barry, journalist and coordinator of the COVID-19 news program in Guinea, a magazine produced by the Guinean Association of Science Journalists (which is made up of young journalists working on health, environment and technology issues). Speaking of this program, we have integrated a national in its production. I would say it was timely to meet the information needs of the Guinean populations. Most of the media in place were more content to give statistics on the pandemic such as the number of cases recorded, cured or deaths … figures which are certainly important to communicate but there was also this need to give voice to the real people who are directly impacted by the pandemic. And our program ́info Covid 19 ́ is a response to this need by addressing relevant topics and allowing key players to tell their stories in their languages with their own reality. This program also contributes to the fight against misinformation by involving health specialists. We have very good feedback from the regions where the program is broadcasted. Some of our partner radios broadcast the program all week long at the request of the community. This is to tell you how important it is for people to have a space where their concerns are taken into account and where they can find the right information in times of health or other crises. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Fondation Hirondelle for supporting us in this project by making its expertise available to us. Thank you also to the EU, which is funding us through this project Covid-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information. This fund will obviously allow us to continue to meet this need for credible and useful information.