In today’s ever-evolving media landscape, the importance of objective and independent journalism is paramount. With the surge in online media sources, distinguishing credible news from unverified information has become increasingly challenging. Against this backdrop, Douzelage Meerssen orchestrated the Free Press under Pressure (FPuP) project on 5-7 November 2023. This initiative challenged over 70 young adults, aged 18-30, from 19 European towns to critically assess media information, recognise the importance of an independent press in a democratic society and develop a toolkit for discerning reliable news.
The FPuP project’s primary goal was to enhance critical thinking among young adults when evaluating information and news across various media sources. This was achieved by reflecting on participants’ media consumption habits and exploring alternatives while encouraging them to assess information objectivity. They also developed a toolkit for distinguishing independent news gathering from unverified sources in order to raise awareness among young adults about the significance of an independent press in a democratic society.
Participants actively engaged with these objectives in interactive workshops where they analysed media landscapes, media ownership, source reliability and the importance of fact checking. They also considered all sides of a story when discussing various news items across different media platforms. The workshops culminated in the creation of videos, mind maps, or checklists aimed at sharing the toolkit with other young people.
The FPuP project was organised by Douzelage Meerssen and was co-funded under the EU’s Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) programme. Studio Europa Maastricht played an important role in its development and execution, along with partners such as Fontys Pedagogics and the United Nations University-MERIT. Alexandra Masciantonio, a postdoctoral researcher at Studio Europa Maastricht, contributed to shaping the workshop format and led one of the workshop groups. Job Zomerplaag, a programme maker at Studio Europa Maastricht, moderated discussions among the participants. Studio Europa Maastricht’s director, Gonny Willems, addressed the participants in a short speech after which they attended a guided tour of the Maastricht Treaty exhibition delivered by Bart Stol, project manager European heritage.
The Free Press under Pressure project is a testament to European cooperation at the grassroots level. It empowered young adults from various EU member states to critically assess media information, develop a toolkit for discerning trustworthy news and understand the pivotal role of objective and independent journalism. This project exemplifies the collaborative efforts of Douzelage Meerssen, Studio Europa Maastricht and a consortium of partners. As we look ahead, Studio Europa Maastricht is committed to continuing its support for projects and initiatives that share the same vision and objectives as the Free Press under Pressure project.
Douzelage Meerssen is a part of the Douzelage network, a town-twinning partnership founded in 1991, and made up of 28 towns across EU member states and the UK. The network’s mission is to foster cultural exchange and solidarity among member towns through regular events and projects.
Annigje Kruytbosch, President Douzelage Europe
Keep an eye on the Douzelage Meerssen website for updates on the toolkits.