RSF has for years been extending its support to journalists who continue to provide news and information in a climate that, as seen in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, is often hostile to the media.
For example, RSF helps journalists to pay their legal fees when they are being arbitrarily prosecuted in connection with their reporting. It helps journalists who are the victims of physical violence to pay their medical bills. And it assists their families, the collateral victims of the actions of those who did not want the truth exposed.
Nearly half of the assistance grants allocated in 2016 went towards covering the cost of relocating journalists in danger or otherwise helping them to find a safe refuge. Because of threats, many have no choice but to leave their homes and go to another city, another region or even another country. RSF helps them to relocate to a safe place and to cover their most urgent needs on arrival.
Some journalists are able to return and resume working after a few weeks or months but the degree of danger often makes it impossible to return quickly. Every year, dozens of journalists, especially those who have been persecuted for years, are forced to accept that they cannot go back.
In 2016, RSF channelled its funding above all into supporting those who continue to provide news and information despite being harassed. Two thirds of the funds allocated went to assisting the activities of independent media or organizations.
“RSF tries to help journalists and media outlets to continue to make their free and independent voices heard in their country of origin or in exile,” said Martial Tourneur, the head of RSF’s Assistance Desk.
The recipients of RSF’s assistance have included two of its historic partners, Journalist in Danger (JED) in Democratic Republic of Congo and the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) in Iraq. These two NGOs are tireless watchdogs, monitoring the freedom of journalists and the media in two very violent countries that are ranked 154th and 158th respectively in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The media outlets assisted by RSF include some that have seized the torch of journalism again in exile, notably media created by journalists who were originally based in Syria until the security situation there became too difficult (see below).
A combat without borders
Although 10,000 km apart, JED and JFO have set themselves to the same task. Created in 1998 and 2004 respectively, these two historic partners of RSF document abuses against journalists and support the media throughout their respective countries. As the DRC and Iraq have sunk ever deeper into political uncertainty and violence, the work of these two NGOs has been more necessary than ever.
In 2016, RSF provided them with financial assistance to enable them to continue their monitoring and advocacy in defense of freedom of the media and journalists. JED has also been able to carry out several visits to journalists in the provinces.
Statement by JED secretary-general Tshivis Tshivuadi
RSF’s support enables us to continue playing our whistleblowing role
“In 2016, we were able to carry out several visits to the provinces in order to reinforce our knowledge of the media situation there. We were also able to organize a round-table in July on the subject of ‘media, power and civil society’ that brought journalists, media experts and NGO representatives together to establish the bases of an alert mechanism for the safety and protection of journalists.
“Congolese journalists are often targeted by those who hold political power, who accept neither criticism nor exposure. This is why it is crucial for an organization such as JED – which is also subjected to a great deal of harassment from the same perpetrators – to continue its ‘whistleblowing’ role and to remind public office holders of their obligations. We also try to encourage the emergence of a dialogue between the journalistic community and the authorities. Such a dialogue is vital for guaranteeing better respect for the media’s work and improving the situation of journalists.
“On 3 May 2017, World Press Freedom Day, we reported that there had been 69 cases of abuses so far this year, as against 41 during the same period in 2016. This is an increase of almost 70% and speaks clearly to the critical nature of the political and security situation.”
Statement by Bashar Mandalawi, JFO representative in Washington
Our financial independence of the government guarantees our freedom and effectiveness
“There is almost daily violence against the Iraqi media. The number of potential perpetrators of abuses against journalists increases as the security climate declines. Journalists are targeted from all sides – including members of extremist groups such as Islamic State, pro-government militias and even members of the army, the security forces and political parties.
“In such a political context, the JFO clearly cannot accept funding from Iraqi governmental organizations or political parties. Our financial independence guarantees our freedom and effectiveness. RSF’s support enabled the JFO to continue operating in 2016. We continue to work actively to ensure our organization’s financial survival, thanks to the support of our members.
“It is important that NGOs such as the JFO continue to talk to the authorities, to remind them of their responsibilities and call them to account. The rise of extremism and militias has hit journalism hard and has also undermined the authority of governmental institutions, which nonetheless have obligations and a clear role to play as regards media freedom and fundamental freedoms in general.”
Aside from the JFO and JED, which pursue RSF’s goals in their individual countries, RSF has provided assistance to media outlets that embody the fight for freely and independently reported news and information. They include Syrian media that have had to move abroad because the danger within Syria is so great.
Syrian journalists seeking safety and the ability to keep reporting
Hundreds of journalists had to flee Syria because of the scale of the crackdown on the media after the popular uprising began in 2011. The Syrian exile media were often created by citizen-journalists but six years of experience have enabled them to become much more professional. The initial revolutionary rhetoric has given way to more objectivity and impartiality. Time and the war’s prolongation have created other, major challenges, including funding. Heavily dependent on the support of institutional donors, the Syrian exile media are finding it hard to keep operating.
In 2016 and 2017, RSF has continued to assist media outlets created in recent years by Syrian journalists after fleeing their country. RSF provided assistance worth a total of €40,000 to five Syrian exile media outlets.
The recipients included Saiedat Souria, a monthly created in 2013 that is distributed in Syria and the Turkish border area. It focuses on the situation of Syrian women and enables them to express their views, promote their rights and seek their emancipation.
RSF’s support was designed to help some of these media outlets to overcome a temporary funding shortfall. Other support projects helped media to acquire the equipment they needed to continue or develop their activities.
During the past year, RSF also allocated a total of 30 assistance grants to individual Syrians, mostly those who had just fled their country. The grants helped them relocate safely or cover their most urgent needs in exile. In February 2016, for example, €1,500 was given to a Syrian journalist who had recently fled to Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey. The grant helped him to move away from the Syrian border because he had received threatening messages from members of Islamist militias. RSF’s funding also helped several journalists who had obtained French visas to relocate to France from the countries where they had found initial refuge.
RSF assistance activities in figures
In 2016, RSF allocated 131 assistance grants to individuals, media outlets and NGOs with an overall value of more than €330,000.