Using new methods in the North to circumvent censorship. New journalism projects in December.
In the North, the Independent Barents Observer is defying Russian censorship in an effort to reach Russian readers. Seeking to reach young readers, Fremtida.no is launching a new series of articles about power. These journalistic projects were granted funding by Fritt Ord in December.
“It is a constant struggle to reach our audience. There are several ways to try side step censorship. The Internet is still open in Russia if people use a VPN (a virtual private network is a service that allows the user to access the Internet through another country, ed.), explains journalist and editor Atle Staalesen of the Independent Barents Observer. In the past year, Kirkenes has become part of a world-wide community of journalists in exile. In spring 2022, Fritt Ord provided funding to hire two Russian journalists to the editorial board. Both are in exile from Russia. The new editorial board, presently consisting of Russian and Norwegian journalists alike, is now adding yet another project: ‘Fighting censorship together’.
YouTube and FM
“Our new goal is to find more ways to get around Russian censorship”, according to the application. This is based on experience: The Barents Observer was blocked by Roskomnadzor, the Russian censorship authority, as early as in February 2019. Since then, the newspaper has tried to circumvent this problem. Several methods have been used", recounts Staalesen, e.g. the mirror domain barentsobserver.co, and a professional news reporter who reads the news items into a podcast, then posts them on social media and sends them out as a newsletter.
The new project granted funding by Fritt Ord in December involves making more translations from Russian to English. We will also try to find other new ways to circumvent Russian censorship, including YouTube presentations and the use of Russian podcast platforms. The first report was published on YouTube before Christmas.
"The readers who thirst for this knowledge are currently keeping one step ahead of the authorities. However, the latter may change their tactics. In a worst case scenario, large parts of the Internet may be blocked," comments Staalesen. "Although we have not planned for that contingency, we have toyed with the idea of using FM broadcasts, if need be.”
Back to the original person-to-person cooperation
“Kirkenes has always been a hub. In many ways, we are returning to the original person-to-person cooperation from the 1990s, when people and associations found each other and made connections independently of the authorities”, he continues. He believes that a great deal of Norwegian-Russian cooperation was controlled by the authorities before that contact ended after the war.
"The tradition can be brought back again. Hopefully, that would lay a foundation for the future. I am absolutely convinced that it means a lot that we have Russians here with us who are raising the banner high and demonstrating resistance against the war for how Russians perceive us. In other words, we are in the process of establishing a community of journalists in exile in Kirkenes. This is reminiscent of the ones in the Baltic States and in Georgia. Now, the Barents Observer aspires to build bridges between the various communities.
“The project is not unique in the world, but it is fairly rare,” says Staalesen. "Before the war, apart from Finland’s YLE, there were few media outlets that published in English and Russian. These days, there are many more. Many talented journalists have left Russia, forming editorial boards in exile in Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. The newspapers Novaja Gazeta and Meduzaer are currently based in Latvia.
“We want to help raise the level of Russian journalism in exile,” says Staalesen. Fritt Ord has allocated NOK 300 000 to the ‘joint Norwegian-Russian fight against censorship’. A total of NOK 400 000 was allocated to the project ‘Independent journalism in exile’ and the hiring of two Russian journalists in April 2022.
Investigating the disempowerment of minorities
In the same round of allocations, the online newspaper Framtida.no was allocated support for a series of articles with the working title ‘Minority and power’. "We will be spending the funding on some regular freelancers and to allow the journalists to delve more deeply into certain matters. We would not otherwise been able to afford that," comments editor Andrea Rygg Nøttveit. The articles highlight questions about power and minorities in terms of language, gender, age, sexual orientation and multi-cultural backgrounds. The operative terms include artificial intelligence, sex education, segregation at school, bullying, racism, hate crimes, representation in local democracy, gender-affirming care, teaching materials in nynorsk and national minorities.
Framtida is especially concerned that freedom of expression has been curtailed for minorities and, as stated in the application, not least “that minorities have often been the brunt of massive smears and harassment when they join in public discourse”.
The fully digital newspaper is published in New Norse, targeting young people from 15 to 25 years of age. The editorial board is independent and owned by the National Association of New Norse Municipalities, cooperating with ABC News on distribution. The five-member editorial board is located in Oslo, while a newspaper and online newspaper published for children, Framtida Junior, has its office on Stord.
"A fully digital online newspaper in New Norse shows that New Norse continues to be a viable language for young people today," continues Rygg Nøttveit. She also notes that the traffic from the learning platforms indicates that the newspaper is being used by schools increasingly more often.
"ABC News re-publishes the news items. There, they reach a target group one might think would probably not read New Norse. But no one has reacted to publication in that variant of Norwegian. We see that as an argument that it is the content that counts, and not the variant of Norwegian", concludes the editor.
Fritt Ord has provided NOK 100 000 in support for the series of articles.
See Norwegian version of the text for full list of "new journalism projects supported in January. ":/nb/aktuelt/omgar-russlands-sensur-nye-journalistprosjekter-i-desember