In the battle to shape digital technologies so that they serve the public interest, civil society is up against the vast resources and influence of the tech industry. That’s a daunting challenge for a sector that’s still small and emergent and to meet it, civil society needs to collaborate. That’s why last November, Civitates and the European AI Fund brought together 40 people from their grantees that work on different aspects of digital and tech policy to foster connections and identify the best ways to support each other.
Grantees in the spotlight
Civitates’ grantee partners the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Who Targets Me and 444’s fact-checking platform Lakmusz.hu collaborated on research around the Hungarian elections in April 2022. They examined how Hungarian political parties targeted audiences with tailored political ads on Facebook during the campaign period leading up to the elections.
For Divergente’s small newsroom the award for Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling by Online Journalism Awards and the nomination for the Digital Media Award by Prix Europa came as an exciting recognition for their work. Civitates started supporting Divergente in 2021 with a core grant and has seen the team and their ambitions about their independent multimedia investigative and narrative newsroom grow.
The NGO Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso e Transeuropa (OBCT) – a think tank focused on South-East Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus founded more than 20 years ago – published the report “Italian civil society: from target to antidote to the crisis of democracy?”. The research, supported by Civitates, is part of the project “Winning the Narrative”, which aims to respond to the shrinking space for non-governmental organisations, renewing their narratives, especially on migration issues.
The OBCT team found that civil society in Italy has both strengths and weaknesses. It is fundamental to preserve the rule of law, but this role of “antidote” is endangered by the rise of populism, that followed the 2015 migrant crisis. This explains the question mark at the end of the title: Italian civil society is still working to recuperate its space of safeguard for democracy.
The Czech presidency of the EU Council: an opportunity for civil society to collaborate and strengthen democracy
To understand what is at stake during the Czech Presidency and how non-governmental organisations are contributing to the debate around the EU priorities, we spoke with Jana Miléřová, a coordinator at Glopolis, a backbone organisation of the NeoN platform. NeoN, a Civitates grantee partner, is an informal network that associates 15 thematic platforms from the Czech Republic, putting together more than 400 NGOs. It coordinates advocacy actions for the democratic sphere. They are working towards promoting a stronger civic space a priority during the Czech Presidency of the EU Council.
For citizens to participate fully in democratic processes, they need to be able to make informed decisions. In the last decades, the internet made information more accessible than ever. Paradoxically, however, we seem to be getting less and less information of public interest while being shut in online eco-chambers that reinforce our views and prevent us from holding healthy and fruitful dialogues.
While journalism is under threat across the world, journalists are courageously taking on investigations, sometimes at enormous costs to bring information of public interest to citizens. They bring to light the shadiest practices and speak truth to power. Recently, publications regarding two global investigations, the Pandora Papers and the Pegasus Project hugely impacted the international community. Direkt36, a Hungarian grantee partner of Civitates, played an important role in both these investigations.
While often the arguments such as the efficiency of public administrations or public safety are used to justify the implementation of certain systems or technologies, there is also a lack of transparency and accountability that are essential elements of any democratic system. This
In many countries, both media and civil society organisations (CSOs) face the same challenges such as restricted access to information, smear campaigns, legal and practical limitations for accessing funding, as well as limited space for the exchanges of best practices – all a result of the shrinking civil space. Collaboration between journalistic organisations and CSOs can counter those trends, advance their work, have a powerful societal impact, and strengthen democracy.