One unusually hot week in the picturesque and historic capital of the Czech Republic, 23 journalists from 15 different nations came together in a classroom at Anglo-American University, in the heart of Old Town Prague. At the head of the class for a special guest lecture on day-one was Jakub Janda (AIPES 2013), director of the Kremlin Watch program for the European Values think tank in Prague.
Janda was covering with the students the ways the Kremlin spreads disinformation through all types of media. He stressed that the Kremlin is still on the offensive, having met little resistance from the Western world. He explained, however, there are ways the press in free nations can counteract the disinformation campaign. Seated before him were young journalists from Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and other nations – some of whom had witnessed the impact of disinformation and suppression of free speech firsthand and were ready to step up and fight it.
So began the European Journalism Institute (EJI), a week-long summer institute that brought together journalists from North America, Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Asia for an immersive educational experience discussing the complex political and economic issues around the world.
The program was held in partnership with The Media Project (TMP), a network led by TFAS alumnus Paul Glader (IPJ 99, AIPES 00) and like-minded journalists with the mission to help educate and train journalists about reporting on religion and public life. TMP collaborated with TFAS to offer young journalists this unique chance to learn, foster cross-border dialogue and join a growing global network of responsible TFAS- and TMP-trained leaders in journalism.
“We see the value of teaching them real journalism skills,” said Glader, “as well as the nature of political liberty and how it is rooted in press freedom, economic freedom and religious freedom. Our hope is that we can assist future leaders who help improve liberty in their own countries and contexts.”
TFAS and Glader collaborated to combine The Media Project’s focus on religion and conflict reporting with the TFAS programmatic emphasis on economic and political systems. The organizations also incorporated lessons on the importance of journalism ethics into the EJI curriculum.
Some of these young journalists have lived through and covered war and nationalist oppression. Spending a week in training and reflection, we hope, is the shot in the arm they need to keep going – exercising press freedoms and ethical journalism in places where doing so is difficult.”
Paul Glader (IPJ 99, AIPES 00), business and ethics professor in EJI 2017
By the end of a packed week of lectures, panel discussions and visits to sites such as the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty studio, the students felt better equipped and ready to cover the political, religious and economic stories of their worlds. Ramee Deeb (EJI 17) of Lebanon pointed to “the fact that journalism and the media have an increasingly major role to play to sustain democracies and freedoms around the world,” as the key insight he would take away from his classroom experience.
For the 2017 institute classes, Glader collaborated with Vladimir Vano (AIPES 99), chief economist of Sberbank in Vienna and TFAS alumnus, to lead the courses on business and economic reporting. Dr. Ibrahim Al-Marashi (IIPES 2001), a current AIPES conflict-management professor, co-taught classes with Professor Terry Mattingly focusing on religious and conflict reporting. David Rocks, an editor at Bloomberg News in Berlin, taught three sessions on high-impact writing and editing, which focused on how to make articles and submissions stand out and gain readership.
While the students gained eye-opening and deeply valuable lessons from the classroom, in the end they learned as much from each other. Olena Makarenko (AIPES 2015, EJI 17) of Ukraine found great value in meeting and working with fellow journalists from differing backgrounds through the EJI program.
“It is very important,” Makarenko said, “for a journalist to communicate with peers, to learn about new countries and cultures…. Also, it was useful to meet people with different opinions. Because we do not have to agree with everything, but to know different opinions is a must for a journalist.”
Fidaa Maytaah (EJI 17) of the West Bank agreed, saying, “It was a new and different experience. You get to know people from different, complex backgrounds. You get to think about journalism from different perspectives and you start analyzing things in a more mature and open manner.”
The summer 2017 program represents a revival of the TFAS EJI program, which first ran from 2004 to 2011. The 2017 program is already making an impact in the participants’ lives. One participant, Shubham Ghosh (EJI 17), wrote an article for the International Business Times about his experience, saying that, “EJI has made me hungry. Hungry to do better in my career; hungry to meet more fascinating people.”