On a late June morning in a hotel in central Athens, the award-winning journalist Yavuz Baydar is discussing the erosion of press freedom in Turkey. “The Panama Papers were completely ignored,” he shrugs. In the audience, there are many journalists, not only from Istanbul and Athens, but also Beirut, Cairo, Tehran, Amman and Kuwait – as well as London, Berlin, Rome and Copenhagen.
It is the inaugural Aegean Summit, a new conference aiming to bring together “progressive media professionals” from the Mediterranean, Middle East and the North African region, and to create an annual meeting point for cross-border collaboration.
The Greek capital offers a convenient, strategic location for such a gathering, explains Spyros Ladeas, Aegean Summit Director, in an interview with EJO. Most of the speakers here “don’t necessarily represent big publications but instead work from grassroots communities and have unique perspectives,” says Ladeas. In the course of the two-day event they shared their expertise:
Iranian filmmaker Gelareh Kiazand, a VICE News correspondent, spoke about the careful balance that needs to be applied when telling stories through fiction and documentaries without influencing authenticity. She spoke of the need for journalists “to be true to the environment they tell the stories about.”
A session on sustainable business models featured Maha ElNabawi, co-founder of the Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr. ElNabawi spoke about the efforts to create and develop a brand and build a close relationship with the publication’s audience, while Teun Gautier, De Coöperatie publisher, presented the Dutch publication’s independent approach.
Tassos Morfis, Athens Live Editor-in-Chief , who crowd-sourced €23,000 in May, told Aegean Summit that his outlet wants to avoid being dependent on advertising agencies. “So far this is working great,” he confirmed.
Chris Elliott, former Guardian Readers’ Editor and Ethical Journalism Network member, chaired a panel on the challenges that the migration crisis poses for journalists, where Preethi Nallu of Beirut’s Refugees Deeply spoke of the merits of collaborative over competitive approaches.
A talk on media collaboration featured Hamoud Almahmoud of Amman’s Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), and Sotiris Sideris of Athens Live – both good examples of outlets creating synergies across different platforms and in different ways with ARIJ providing training and Athens Live producing local content to distribute abroad.
Other speakers included Marta Ottaviani, La Stampa Turkey and Greece correspondent, Ayman Mhanna, Director of the Brussels-based Global Forum for Media Development, Michael Irving Jensen, Head of Middle East and North Africa at International Media Support and Laura Silvia Battaglia of Frontline Freelance Register.
What does the future hold for Aegean Summit?
“Definitely an Aegean Summit 2017,” smiles Spyros Ladeas. For this first instalment, the event has been self-financed with no external support from sponsors, institutes or other organisations. However, for next year the organisers are looking for partners and potential revenue sources.
Ladeas wants the summit to become an ecosystem for cross-border ideas – an ongoing forum between Europe and the Middle East. “My personal driver is to reach out to different regions and find similar people in this kaleidoscope of perspectives,” he explains.
In the coming months, he is planning to travel to Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon to research and find some more unique media outlets and stories. He thinks one shouldn’t criticise big organisations, or big media that are maybe not fulfilling the summit’s vision. “It’s better to try and do something rather than hoping that someone else will do it,” he concludes.
Pic credit: Aegean Summit 2016, c.Vas Panagiotopoulos