The Assistance Desk of Reporters Without Borders’s International Secretariat and its counterpart at the headquarters of RWB’s German section in Berlin are responsible for coordinating the administrative, material and financial support that RWB provides to journalists and media in difficulty. Helping journalists find a safe refugee, assisting persecuted media, paying the medical or legal bills of journalists who are the targets of violence or judicial proceedings, providing emergency assistance to journalists who have fled their country – such are the activities that Reporters Without Borders undertakes to help news providers in situations of crisis.
Reporters Without Borders disbursed 157 assistance grants in 2013 with a total value of more than €160,000 and wrote about 180 support letters to help journalists obtain visas or adequate international protection.
Geographic origin of journalists assisted
A third of the grants disbursed in 2013 benefitted journalists from the Middle East, above all Syrian journalists who have had to flee their country because of the civil war and endemic repression. According to RWB’s tally, at least 121 Syrian journalists have fled the violence and persecution since the start of the conflict in March 2011. These grants were intended to help them cope with their immediate needs and find a safe refuge.
Reporters Without Borders also provided a great deal of assistance to journalists from the Great Lakes region and Horn of Africa (26% of the total) who are the victims of the violence and arbitrary rule prevailing in Democratic Republic of Congo (especially in the far-eastern provinces of North and South Kivu), Rwanda and Eritrea.
This chart shows the breakdown of assistance grants in 2013 by geographic origin of recipients:
Kinds of problems encountered by journalists
As well as enabling journalists who have fled persecution to cover their immediate basic needs while in transit countries, where they are often without resources or income on their arrival (40% of cases), RWB’s assistance grants also enable unjustly prosecuted journalists to pay legal fees (12%).
A total of 11% of the assistance grants were used to pay the medical bills of journalists who were injured in connection with their work or needed medical care after being mistreated in detention. Another 11% enabled threatened journalists to find a safe refuge in their own country, or to flee to a neighbouring country or to Europe, when the gravity of the threats so required. Finally, 8% of grants were paid to families to help offset loss of income resulting from a journalist’s imprisonment, hospitalization or death.
This chart shows the breakdown of assistance grants by the purpose for which they were intended.
Recipients of assistance grants
More than half of the assistance grants went to journalists who have fled their country, including the many news providers hit by the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Professional and citizen-journalists in Syria are clearly being targeted both by government representatives and the various militias that are party to the conflict, especially the Jihadi groups ISIS and Al-Nosra Front, which are formidable enemies of freedom of information. Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, at least 107 Syrian news providers have been killed, more than 200 have been arrested by government forces and at least 58 have been arrested or kidnapped by non-government forces. Around 50 are currently detained, kidnapped or missing.
In the light of the gravity and urgency of the situation in Syria, a quarter of the 2013 assistance grants went to Syrian news providers, while around 30 letters were sent to UNHCR and to government officials or entities responsible for screening asylum requests in France, Germany and other European countries to help Syrian news providers to obtain a humanitarian visa or succeed with other applications.
Many of the letters that RWB wrote for Iranian journalists seeking asylum in Europe or North America (26 letters) were for those who fled their country during the crackdown on the media immediately after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection as president in June 2009. But RWB has also been active in supporting journalists who have fled Iran much more recently. The approximately 20 support letters that RWB wrote for Iranian journalists in transit countries in 2013 is indicative of the level of the regime’s continuing attempts to gag independent media.
At the same time, Reporters Without Borders has been in frequent contact with the UNHCR offices in Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda about the many Eritrean and Somali journalists who have fled their countries because of the appalling media climate prevailing there.
Reporters Without Borders invested considerable effort into supporting the news provision activities of media, professional journalists and independent citizens. A total of 14% of the assistance grants went to independent media or organizations. They represented around 60% of the value of all funding provided by the International Secretariat.
RWB organized a training session in Gaziantep (in southeastern Turkey) in September 2013 designed to assist emerging Turkey-based Syrian media. After this successful initiative, another three similar training sessions are planned in 2014. A seminar on physical safety and covering elections was held for 22 Libyan journalists in Tunis in September.
As part of its efforts to thwart government censorship, Reporters Without Borders created mirrors of news websites that have been hacked or blocked. It also waged a campaign to alert public opinion to the violations of freedom of information in Vietnam, the world’s second biggest prison for bloggers and netizens (after China), launching a petition for the release of the 35 bloggers currently detained in Vietnam and publishing a report entitled “Programmed death of freedom of information” about the methods used by the government to censor the media and persecute bloggers and cyber-dissidents. More than 32,000 people have so far signed the petition.
Vietnamese bloggers and online media that have been the victims of government censorship and harassment were allocated several grants for material and financial support.
This chart shows the breakdown of grants by the kind of recipient.
The following two charts show the breakdown of RWB support letters by origin of journalist supported and by category of the officials to whom they were sent.