Providing education on harm reduction through the media

July 23, 2013

HCLU's European Drug Policy Initiative invited a group of journalists to cover the world's largest assembly on harm reduction. Find out how they covered the Harm Reduction International Conference in Vilnius.

Speaking to a wider audience should always be among the basic priorities of NGOs when they communicate their achievements. And since HCLU’s Drug Program has always been keen to deliver its messages to a wider audience than just the experts, we thought it would make great sense to invite professional media workers to cover, at first hand, the largest event dedicated to different aspects of harm reduction.

The core idea was to generate coverage of the otherwise fairly “difficult to sell” issue of reducing harms related to the use of legal and illegal psychoactive substances. In making our call for the media scholarship we decided to direct the invitation to people with a proven record of covering social, health and drug-related issues, in order to make sure that the invited media workers would have the basic background knowledge needed to cover the event.

After the application deadline arrived, we counted about thirty high-quality applications. Out of those, ten were chosen and invited to join us at the HRIC, held this year in the Lithuanian capital - though as it turned out, chance played a part, since two of our applicants, from Serbia and Portugal, had to cancel at the last minute.

Even so, journalists from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania joined us for the three day conference held in the hearth of Vilnius. Among them were journalists specialising in drug issues, and media professionals who were simply enthusiastic about harm reduction. Specifically, the following media outlets were represented: the British daily The Guardian, the pop cult trend site and paper Vice Magazine, the state-run Berlin Brandenburger Radio (BBR), Inter Press Service News Agency (an international civil news provider), the Hungarian economic weekly HVG, the French weekly Politis, the Romanian liberal news site Think out of the Box (, Polish Radio TOK FM, and Radio Student FM89.3 Slovenia.

Besides the practicalities (accommodation, travel costs, expenses), HCLU's team helped to set up interviews, meetings and recording sessions with representatives of NGOs, politicians, users and ex-users among others.

As an example, Ethan Nadelmann, President of the Drug Policy Alliance, the largest pro-regulation and decriminalisation NGO in the United States, gave a group interview for our invitees. In cooperation with the organisers of HRIC, our scholars had the opportunity to interview former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs Ruth Dreifuss.

The conference also focussed particularly on HIV prevalence in the Ukraine. In this Eastern European country, the number of new HIV infections went down last year, for the first time since 1999, thanks to syringe and needle exchange programs funded entirely by international donors. This issue was also extensively covered by the journalists.

In addition to being given access to the high profile interviewees, journalists stressed in their feedback that talking to ex-users, street workers, NGO experts and other professionals gave significant added value to their coverage. Learning about the human side of a drug user's situation was one of the main advantages, our invited media professionals told us, when they compared HRIC with conferences dedicated to other issues.

Finally, we'll let our authors' articles and reportage speak for themselves. But before that, HLCU's EDPI team wants to take this opportunity to thank our scholars for the passion they showed for the issue, and the great coverage they provided.

Harm Reduction International Conference June 2013, Vilnius

European Drug Policy Initiative Media Scholarship

Max Daly, UK
Vice Magazine
Read more

Olivier Doubre, France
Read the full interview with Aleksander Kwasniewski
You can find the print Pdf edition of the Politis reportage here

Johannes Metzler, Deutschland
Berlin Brandenburg Radio - RBB
Vis-a-Vis radio program, RBB, 2 July 2013
Radio Interview with Dirk Schäffer, Deutschen Aidshilfe 
Listen to the  full radio interview
Lana Durjava, Slovenia
Radio Študent
Interview with Ethan Nadelmann - Dnevnik
Letters from abroad
Read the full story here
Andra Mazal,Romania
Think out of the box news site
Ethan Nadelmann interview
Read Totb reportage from the Vilnius conference

Mary O’Hara, United Kingdom
Guardian, Observer
Prior to the conference: Branson on politics and decriminalization
After the conference: Drugs policymakers of the 1980s knew the score

Edward Holt, Slovakia
Inter Press Service News Agency
Ukraine Injects Addicts With Hope

Jakub Janiszewski, Poland
Radio interview on HIV
Download the full interview
György Folk, Hungary
HVG News site
Heroin could bring the end of drug war