In 1993 this context led to the initiative to support free media in former Yugoslavia from the Netherlands. At the time several other persons and organizations had taken up the same cause: both the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten [Dutch association of journalists] (NVJ) and De Balie in Amsterdam and the Steunpunt Vredesgroepen [peace movement support group] in Nijmegen wanted to provide ongoing support to the media in Yugoslavia.
On 6 May 1993 Press Now was established. Press Now upholds the principle that a civilized society cannot possibly emerge without independent media. All actions supporting independent free media are therefore vial for reconciliation, democracy, restoration, and economic growth. The initiative was also an opportunity to provide material aid to newspapers or other media, for example by adopting media. One such case was Humo in Belgium, which delivered several tons of paper to Vrelo in Tuzla.
The board of Press Now includes Erik Jurgens, Hans Verploeg, Ahmed Aboutaleb, and Heikelien Verrijn Stuart. The press, the public, and the government all believed that the time had come to help. Minister of Foreign Affairs P.H. Kooijmans rejoiced at the Press Now initiative.
The establishment of Press Now was the outcome of an extended course of events. The NVJ had been revising its foreign policy for years. In the early 1990s the rise in violent conflicts led these efforts to be intensified.
In 1992 the organization Reporters Respond was established to provide material aid to journalists in tight predicaments. Hans Verploeg participated in this initiative, just as he did in the establishment of Press Now. The tenth anniversary commemoration of the death of four IKON journalists in El Salvador gave rise to Reporters Respond, which is based on the view that freedom of expression and other abstract human rights are possible only if journalists are able to continue their work, even after their computers have been destroyed or stolen by groups that disapprove of independent reporting. Surviving family members of murdered journalists were eligible for this support as well.
The NVJ also followed Verploeg's recommendation to support the IFJ-NVJ Early Warning Network '... to identify and thwart attacks on the fledgling independent journalist practice'. Protecting the interests of journalists clearly coincides with defending freedom of the press in this NVJ work.
The Internet came into use in the first half of the 1990s. The tremendous need for communication about the war in Yugoslavia soon led Press Now to work with electronic newsgroups, bulletin boards, e-mail communication, and later the world wide web. The periodical Now Future features regular reports on these developments.
The Internet soon became indispensable in former Yugoslavia. The Occasio digital archive reflects the flow of messages. In 1992 the Za Mir communication network was formed with help from the progressive provider Antenna and others. Since 1992 the Internet has been of strategic importance in all free press campaigns and now contains 22,000 electronic messages from the 14 news groups involved in former Yugoslavia.
After May 1993 Press Now rapidly became a larger, more professional operation. For 1995, the board approved projects totalling NLG 1.1 million for Dani and Radio Zid and other causes. Five years after Press Now was established, NLG 5 million was allocated to the independent press, making the Netherlands the largest donor in this field. Additional financing from the European Union totalled NLG 22.3 million that year. In 1998 Press Now expanded its operations to include Albania and Bulgaria.
The impact of the media aid is difficult to quantify, although the list of newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that received aid is revealing. Sometimes, even in former Yugoslavia, scepticism surfaces. A. Jankovic, editor of Revolt from Banja Luka, wondered in 1998: 'altogether nearly three hundred media exist here [in Banja Luka]. I am very curious how many there will be a year from now, when the financial aid from the European Union ceases.' Even a list of supported media, however, does not indicate whether Press Now has achieved its goal, which has always been to promote free, multiform, democratic, and non-violent societies by supporting free and independent press.
Some of the Yugoslav successor states have come much closer to this ideal. Others still have a long way to go. Now, in 2006, Press Now is a professional NGO that focuses its operations on conflict regions and transition countries. Promoting independent media throughout the world remains a very worthy cause.