The Wincott Foundation and Eastern Europe
An introduction by Sir Geoffrey Owen, former chairman of The Wincott Foundation
Between 1995 and 2015 The Wincott Foundation ran a fellowship programme through which selected journalists from the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union spent one or two terms at Oxford University, under the auspices of the Oxford-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. A total of 38 journalists attended the programme during this period.
The thinking behind the programme was that, as the ex-Communist countries set about their transition towards fully functioning market economies, they would benefit from the presence of well-informed journalists capable of reporting and analysing economic issues objectively and authoritatively. Journalists who attended our programme would learn how their counterparts in the Western media operate, how newspapers and other media organisations are managed, how they are responding to the various challenges and threats that are affecting the industry, not least the shift from print to on-line journalism, and what lessons might be applied in their own countries.
In 2015 the trustees decided that, after twenty years, it was an appropriate moment to bring the East Europe programme to an end and to focus our resources on another part of the world where the need for high-quality economic journalism is no less pressing - sub-Saharan Africa; the newly launched Africa programme is described elsewhere on this website.
To mark the end of the East Europe programme, the trustees invited past fellows to provide some reflections on the impact of the programme on their careers and to give us an assessment of the state of the media in their countries. Ten fellows responded to our request, and their contributions can be accessed here. We offered a prize for the contribution judged by the Wincott trustees to be the most informative and insightful, and a second prize to the runner-up. The first prize was awarded to Erkki Bahovski from Estonia, and the second to Angelina Davydova from Russia.
These essays highlight the value which the Wincott fellows derived from their stay in the UK, and the impact of the fellowship on their subsequent careers. They also shed interesting and in many ways disturbing light on the problems faced by journalists in some of the ex-Communist countries. Quite apart from the challenges which are shared with their Western counterparts - the shift from print to on-line, the rise of social media, the difficulty of generating advertising revenue - the writers show how journalistic independence has been compromised both by political interference and by changes in ownership of the media; in several countries the media landscape is dominated by owners who use their control of newspapers and TV stations to promote their business interests without much regard to balance or objectivity. Against that, several of the essays also report some encouraging initiatives by journalists who are determined to maintain the highest journalistic standards and to provide the informed reporting, comment and analysis which are essential ingredients in any properly functioning democracy.
Geoffrey Owen, May, 2016