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In 2012, the media situation in South and Southeast Asia was characterised by a simultaneous widening and narrowing of democratic space and press freedom. Spring for press freedom in Myanmar continued in 2012 after five decades of strict authoritarian rule came to an end in March 2011. In Nepal, small improvements in media could be seen with less censorship and greater access to official information, while in Afghanistan, the safety of journalists continued to be a major issue. The ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan worsened with a lack of government policy to protect media workers, and in the Philippines the safety of journalists continued on a rocky path with four journalists killed in the month of May alone.

IMS’ work in Asia had the shared aim of enhancing the constructive role of local media in countries marred by conflict or in countries in the midst of democratic transition. Two overarching themes characterised our activities in the region: safety and protection of journalists to create an enabling environment for media, and professionalising media content to ensure a balanced and informed public debate.

Myanmar continued its remarkable transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in the course of 2012 with significant reforms taking place in the media sector such as the gradual lifting of censorship and a complete end to pre-publication scrutiny. Strong partnerships with journalist associations and media workers, government ministries and international media development organisations have helped to shape IMS’ broad sector approach in the country, addressing media law reform to create a stable and safe media environment, the strengthening of media institutions that are the structural backbone of the media sector and professionalising media content.

In August 2012, Myanmar’s first independent interim Press Council was established with IMS support and advice in a move to build a self-regulatory system and complaints mechanism for media. IMS has provided input to the Council’s code of conduct and assisted in the formulation of a draft public service media law and draft broadcasting law. 

Media practitioners in Myanmar are now better organised thanks to the emergence of three journalist associations that represent journalists: the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN), the Myanmar Journalist Union and the Myanmar Journalist Association (MJA). IMS has worked closely with MJA and MJN to expand their memberships and regional networks. The three strengthened associations were thus able to act in unison forcing through a suspension of the first draft print law drafted without their input.

In Afghanistan, the media sector continued to flourish with opportunities for the media to inform the public on ways to support the resolution of the country’s conflict. However, threats to the lives of journalists still remained a daily ­occurrence, and self-censorship was rampant.

Since 2008, IMS has been broadening its countrywide safety and protection mechanism anchored in the local organisation Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC). The AJSC dealt with 66 cases of journalists in peril in 2012 as part of the IMS safety mechanism that covers 32 of 34 provinces. The advocacy work of AJSC to push the government to address the safety of journalists culminated in 2012 when the Afghan government decided to adopt two provisions in the new draft media law committing the government to ensuring the safety of journalists.

Female journalists remain the most vulnerable members of the Afghan media community. As part of the IMS safety mechanism in Afghanistan, a female safety coordinator has done extensive work to inform female journalists about the support of the safety mechanism and is building a database of female reporters throughout the country. In 2012, of 224 journalists who took part in safety training, 32 were women whose training was tailored to address the risks faced by female journalists.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the statistics on attacks on journalists are grim. Between 2007 and 2012, at least one journalist was targeted every 28 days (Intermedia), making it one of the most hazardous countries in the world for journalists.

In an effort to curb rising levels of violence and impunity, the Pakistani NGO Intermedia and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) convened a meeting in Islamabad in November 2012 with IMS funding between Pakistani media, associations and the government. A roadmap was designed for a joint national strategy on the safety of journalists which includes a national alliance of media on safety and strong advocacy for the appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue cases of attacks on media.

This national action plan is now helping to align international efforts in the country working for journalists’ safety under the UNESCO-led UN Plan of Action on Safety for which Pakistan has been selected as a roll-out country and of which IMS is an implementing partner. The monthly IMS-supported publication “Media Threats Bulletin” published by Intermedia since August 2012, compiles documentation on threats to media in Pakistan which has filled an information gap on the issue both domestically and internationally.

The establishment of the Radio Broadcasters Association (RBA) marked a major development in the Pakistani media landscape in 2012. The association is one of the first successful attempts to organise radio broadcast media under one umbrella with a membership totaling 31 broadcasters with 75 FM stations including rural FM networks. The association will strengthen the position of radio in the media sector. Radio remains the primary source of news and information to rural populations.

Years of lobbying for the improved safety of media in Nepal by IMS and partners under the Nepal International Media Partnership’s umbrella was rewarded in 2012 with the decision of the National Human Rights Commission in Nepal to establish a national mechanism for promoting Freedom of Expression particularly by ensuring safety of journalists. The mechanism will address journalists’ lack of safety and impunity for attacks on journalists through a cooperation between the government, security forces, journalists and civil society.

In 2012, the International Media Partnership released its analysis of Nepal’s constitutional proposals regarding the right to Freedom of ­Expression. The analysis marked a crucial and very concrete step in the effort to improve the legal environment for Nepal’s journalists.

Three years since the Ampatuan massacre of 32 journalists in Mindanao, the safety situation for journalists continues to deteriorate in the ­Philippines. A joint IMS and Open Society Foundations assessment mission to the country in mid-2012 revealed that impunity prevails and that the safety situation has become a countrywide issue. The IMS-supported safety programme run by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in 2012 ensured that journalists were assisted by a safety fund when in danger, that safe houses protected the lives of journalists forced to flee and safety training was offered to 190 journalists in the run-up to the 2013 elections.

“As a newsman, I am very much aware how financially unrewarding the job is, but never did I realize I would go as far as being peppered with bullets like I was in March 2012. A year after – or just when I thought the nightmare was finally over, a renewed bid on me was uncovered, compelling me to take my family and seek shelter. The safety assistance came out of nowhere and provided help when I needed it the most,” says Fernan Jose Angeles, Philippino journalist.

Two safety offices run from Mindanao and Manila remain focal points for journalists in distress, building journalist networks and monitoring media rights violations for advocacy use.

Photographers Xiao Quan and Cattleya Jaruthavee participate in the Yangon Photo Festival in Myanmar. Photo: Nicolas Havett

Conflict sensitive journalism in Myanmar

“I never made an effort to get the views of all sides in a conflict,” says Than Htoo, a senior reporter at the popular weekly 7 Days News in Myanmar.

“Now I realise that pain and suffering are the same for everyone involved in a conflict.”

Like the majority of his colleagues, and despite entering his tenth year on the job, Than Htoo has never received any formal journalism training. Myanmar’s journalists are only just emerging from a system of heavy censorship and have little experience in reporting on conflict in a balanced and responsible manner that does not fan the flames of conflict. While much optimism surrounds the democratic reform process in Myanmar, parts of the country remain marred by violent internal conflict between ethnic groups.

Than Htoo is one of nearly 400 journalists taking part in IMS-run workshops on conflict sensitive journalism between December 2012 and June 2013. The workshops are based in Myanmar’s larger cities and in conflict-prone areas such as Kachin State and Rakhine State. The journalists learn techniques for producing balanced reporting that helps to increase understanding between conflicting parties. Attendees include both senior journalists familiar with the watchful gaze of authorities, as well as new, young reporters.

“We were a closed society until very recently. We never asked ‘why’, because we were used to the system we had. Now we try to think differently,” said Than Htoo after the workshop.

Female journalists in Afghanistan brave danger

Afghan journalists who participated in one of IMS’ conflict sensitive journalism trainings in 2012. Photo: IMS

“I have been threatened by the Taliban, corrupt authorities, warlords and even the government. But none of these threats will ever stop me from what I do.” – Fareiba, 24, female Afghan journalist.

Fareiba has worked for seven years as a journalist at an independent Afghan TV station and many of her articles are widely published online. But she is not swayed by the risks involved in speaking out.

“I work as a journalist because I want the voices of the underprivileged members of the Afghan society to reach the authorities of our country,“ she explains.

According to Fareiba, the biggest problem faced by both male and female journalists in Afghanistan is insecurity and lawlessness. Also, women deal with cultural taboos and resistance to them working in the media.

“Despite these factors, women have kept on fighting. Working alongside other women and bringing women justice gives me the energy to work harder,” she says.

Three female journalists have been killed in the past seven years in Afghanistan and dozens have been intimidated to stop working. With other female Afghan journalists, Fareiba has taken part in IMS’ safety course that includes conflict sensitive journalism training to improve her ability to cover conflict in a responsible, neutral manner.



2012 began with a sharp deterioration in the freedom and safety of Malian journalists, when conflict and a military coup put the country’s media under severe pressure. Across the border, Côte d’Ivoire took a crucial step towards an accountable and free media sector with the country’s first code of ethics for journalists. In Kenya, the media’s ability to support a peaceful lead-up to elections was put to the test bearing in mind the violent events following the 2007 elections, while neighbouring Somalia faced continuous humanitarian problems, as well as fragile progress with the appointment of a new president. In South Sudan on-going political and economic instability meant a worsening of press freedom and media safety.

IMS’ work across the African continent in 2012 focused on the safety of journalists and professionalisation of media content to enable the media to play its crucial part in supporting democratic development and peace and reconciliation between conflicting parties.

In Africa’s youngest nation, South Sudan, journalists were faced with challenges tied to a lack of media legislation, low levels of professionalism, and a poor relationship between security forces and journalists.

To enhance the safety of journalists and support constructive collaboration between security forces and media, IMS, the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) brought together foot soldiers, law enforcement officials and journalists to build mutual understanding of each others’ roles and responsibilities.

In the border areas between South Sudan and Sudan tensions ran high throughout the year due to a long list of unresolved issues between the two countries. The tense situation made it difficult for journalists to cover news in the region and to play a constructive role in South Sudan’s fragile relationship with its northern neighbour. Over five days, journalists from South Sudan’s northern border regions attended a seminar on conflict sensitive journalism enabling them to produce professional, balanced media content, as well as training in first aid and how to assess and mitigate risk to stay safe.

In Kenya, IMS addressed the safety of journalists and the need for balanced and professional coverage in the run-up to elections in 2013, so as to avoid a repeat of the violent outcome of the 2007 elections.

As part of IMS’ media and elections programme in Kenya, IMS and Media Council of Kenya trained 30 journalists in risk awareness, first aid, and conflict sensitive journalism. This was complemented by a training of trainers, enabling 19 experienced journalists to pass on skills and advice on how to stay safe to their colleagues working in volatile areas. As opposed to elections in 2007, where the media fuelled violence between ethnic groups through name-calling and hate speech, Kenyan journalists took a major step forward in the 2013 elections.

”Comparing our media’s coverage of the violent 2007 elections to that of the 2013 elections is like comparing night and day,” said Haron Mwangi, Chief Director of Media Council of Kenya, following Kenya’s elections in March 2013.

To counter potential conflicts between security forces and journalists, Media Council of Kenya and IMS also held a series of dialogue forums between law enforcement personnel and journalists in hotspot areas.

“It is important for the police and the journalists to understand their different roles. They often work against each other, and we work to harmonise their relations,” says Victor Bwire, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Media Council of Kenya.

After more than two decades without a func­tioning government, Somalia saw progress in 2012 with the appointment of a new president and the establishment of a new government. But with still-ongoing violent conflicts, widespread poverty, and recurring natural disas­ters, the Somali media faced the crucial task of improving people’s fragile living conditions through professional in-depth reporting on the ­country’s humanitarian situation.

The IMS-supported humanitarian radio service Radio Ergo works to do just that. The radio has a unique presence across Somalia with a network of local stringers, and its daily programme on issues such as health and education, protection, and emergencies, is re-transmitted by 12 FM radio stations across the country. Radio Ergo’s daily broadcasts were complemented in 2012 by a weekly segment on livestock market prices. With many Somalis dependent on earnings from livestock rearing, the radio segment proved a popular addition to Radio Ergo’s programming.

“It’s interesting to listen to the livestock prices on Radio Ergo. The long drought has affected our local production, so it is good for us to know the real prices at the main markets,” said Abdalla Haji Osman, a camel and goat herder from Somalia’s south-central district of Beledweyne.

In 2012, Radio Ergo also organised two intensive investigative journalism workshops for 40 journalists from across the country, covering everything from basic research tools and story presentation to ethics and legal principles, to enable them to provide their local communities with vital humanitarian information about ­issues such as food security, health, and disaster preparedness.

In its recovery from a post-election conflict in 2011, Côte d’Ivoire achieved an important milestone with the adoption of the country’s first code of ethics for journalists. Part of a broad media sector reform supported by IMS, and as a follow-up to an IMS rapid response mission to the country in 2011, the code was developed and adopted by a broad representation of Ivorian journalists and other media professionals. It sets out journalists’ duties and responsibilities as well as their rights and freedoms, guiding them to report professionally on the country’s peace process and future democratisation.

“What has happened today is an important development in the history of the Ivorian media, and given the importance of professional journalism in our country’s recovery process, this could not have happened at a better time,” said Mam Camara, President of the Union of Ivorian Journalists, when the code was adopted.

To ensure proper implementation of the new code of ethics, MFWA with IMS support conducted a training programme for 39 editors from print and broadcast media and 23 representatives from media regulatory bodies, to enable the editors to utilise it in their newsrooms, and to enable media regulatory representatives to apply it when monitoring media content to ensure balanced and professional journalism.

An armed uprising in northern Mali and a subsequent military coup against the Malian president in early 2012 left much of the country’s media in shambles. Emanating from the north, the conflict forced many journalists to seek refuge in the south and left the few remaining media outlets under severe pressure, unable to provide the Malian population with vital information on how the conflict evolved.

As a crucial component in any country’s progress out of conflict and into peaceful, democratic development, the media needs to be able to provide the population with information about the conflict, safely and responsibly. To provide a basis for assisting the Malian media in doing just this, IMS together with Panos West Africa and MFWA, conducted a rapid response partnership mission to the country in October 2012.

The mission’s assessment formed the foundation for IMS’ subsequent support to the Malian media in areas such as conflict sensitive journalism enabling journalists to contribute to building mutual understanding between the opposing sides in the country and support its future peace process.

A mural in Mali’s capital Bamako. Photo: Jane Møller Larsen/IMS

“The images stay with you"

“The images stay with you after the coverage and by the time you realise you need psychological help, you have been very affected,” says journalist Daisy Opar who covered a series of deadly clashes in Kenya’s Tana River District in August 2012.

A result of a dispute over land rights, the clashes led to the death of over 100 people, many of whom were hacked to death with machetes or burned to death.

Following the clashes, daisy and 10 of her colleagues received six days of trauma counselling conducted as part of IMS' work on the safety of journalists. through group therapy and one-on-one sessions the counselling provided the journalists with strategies on how to cope with trauma derived from covering the violence:

“As a journalist I deserve to protect myself. I have also learned that our media houses should be providing for our safety, which they are not doing now,” said Daisy Opar following the trauma counselling.

Daisy Opar and her colleagues feature in the short documentary “Covering Conflict” on Kenya’s 2007/2008 post election violence (available above), produced as part of the training and to document testimonies.

A Safety Fund for journalists in danger

Fatoumata Abdou fled her hometown outside the city of Gao in northern Mali when rebels in mid-2012 took over her radio station deeming that “women should not lead men”.

A grant from the Danish Union of Journalists’ Safety Fund administered by IMS, enabled Fatoumata to take sanctuary in the capital Bamako until the rebels were driven from Gao several months later. Journalists like Fatoumata now play a crucial role in efforts to rebuild the media in northern Mali.

“Our role as journalists is now to enable our communities to talk to each other, and to sensitise people about why reconciliation is important,” said Fatoumata Abdou as she returned to her hometown.

The Safety Fund assisted 68 journalists around the world between October 2011 and February 2013. The Fund is made possible through donations from members of the Danish Union of Journalists and provides support to journalists victimised as a direct result of their work.


In 2012, organised crime groups and drug cartels consolidated their power across Latin America from Mexico pushing down through Colombia and Ecuador into Peru, providing serious challenges for the region’s media to cover a fast-moving array of continuously changing political and security interests.

With drug cartels injecting untold levels of violence and danger into strategically valuable border zones for drug smuggling between Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, the media in the region faced rampant security risks result­ing in self-censorship and low levels of critical, in-depth reporting.

To assist local media in addressing these challenges, IMS worked closely with key media outlets in training 50 reporters from Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, in investigative journalism on topics such as drug-trafficking, internally displaced people and neo-paramilitary violence. These journalists were also trained in practical ways to lower safety risks whilst on the job, including risk assessments and first-aid training, and how to cover armed conflict, civil disturb­ances and natural disasters.

Working hand-in-hand with local media support groups, IMS supported a network of journalists and editors operating in the border zones between Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela to improve conflict sensitive journalism coverage of high-risk topics. This resulted in the development of the new digital media outlet “La Otra Orilla” (“The other side”) which provides a platform for journalists to publish critical reporting in high-risk zones with little existing media coverage.

Drawing on experience from Afghanistan and Pakistan, IMS brought together media and ­security forces in the border zones between Colombia and Venezuela. The aim was to address the conflicts between reporters and foot solders, pushing them to recognise their mutual goal of serving the public and to find common ground in support of Colombia’s fragile path towards peace, as negotiations between the government and the FARC guerilla group continue.

In Mexico and Honduras, attacks on the media and targeted killings of journalists have risen steeply in the past couple of years. This has led to self-censorship, as journalists fear they will be killed if they report on the activities of drug cartels and organised crime groups. In 2012, IMS scaled up work with local and international media support groups to push the two countries’ governments to boost protection of journalists. This lead to the establishment of a federal protection mechanism in Mexico and paving the way for a similar mechanism in Honduras. IMS also began work to set up a special safety fund for journalists under fire in high-risk states in Mexico.

The Killing Fields of Cúcuta

“We were five siblings and now only two of us are left. My father died waiting for Antonio, Claudio, and Marta to come back, and I think I will die in the same way,” says Luis Alberto Durán a farmer in the border zone between Colombia and Venezuela.

His story is chronicled in the in-depth journalistic analysis “The Killing Fields of Cúcuta” published as an inter­active website with the support of IMS. The investigation details the actors and events surrounding a series of horrific mass killings by former and current paramilitary groups in the capital of Norte de Santander in northern Colombia between 1999 and 2004.

"This exclusive cross-border investigation garnered huge levels of public attention, and also sparked a renewed emphasis on internal safety procedures at our paper.We’ve now adopted practical safety measures at our paper acquired from previous IMS safety trainings," says ­Estefanía Colmenares, Editor at La Opinión in Cúcuta, Colombia, about the impact of the story.

“The Killing Fields of Cúcuta” is available in Spanish and English at http://bit.ly/13jwjdB. It was produced and published with the support of IMS by the main newspaper in Cúcuta, La Opinión, together with the Venezuelan radio network Fé y Alegría, and reproduced by the leading Colombian national magazine, Semana.



2012 was a year fraught with challenges for the media in the Middle East and North Africa. The initial optimism that followed in the wake of the 2011 historic uprisings was replaced by realism with the recognition that the road to democracy and press freedom would be long.

The overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen in 2011 launched the countries into complex transition processes which presented new opportunities for media development, but also new challenges. While the four countries experienced a proliferation of new media outlets and a growing awareness of the need for free and independent media to ensure accountability of authorities, the new governments had yet to show real support for media law reform and an improvement of the media environment in 2012. In countries like Jordan and Morocco, the governments did not act on ­promises of media reform.

Syria, alongside Iraq, continued to be one of the world’s most dangerous hotspots for journalists. Syria in particular, caught in a sectarian war, saw its press freedom deteriorate further.

IMS’ strategic focus in 2012 in the countries undergoing transition such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen was on the building blocks necessary for a well-functioning media sector; supporting the ongoing media law reform processes to promote environments conducive to press freedom and safe working conditions for journalists; strengthening media institutions that function as the structural backbone of media sectors and work for the rights of journalists; and finally, improving the quality and impact of media content through journalism skills training, investigative journalism, documentary film-making, and photography. This was done in partnership with local and international partners to increase impact.

In Egypt, the media sector in 2012 was characterised by media pluralism and open debates. Yet state media remained unchanged and the reform of media laws was stalled.

The National Coalition for Media Freedom (NCMF) set up in April 2011 with support from IMS to provide input to the drafting of new media laws, continued its research and advocacy work to shape the direction of media law reform. In November 2012, the NCMF consisting of Egyptian media and civil society organisations released an analysis of 77 articles that restrict Freedom of Expression in Egyptian legislation and proposed amendments to these. Under the auspices of the Coalition, a group of Egyptian media lawyers are now also drafting a new Press and Publications law, pushing ahead to reactivate the stalled media law reform process.

Responsible and balanced media content enables citizens to make informed decisions during political transition periods and elections. In 2012, IMS trained a team of researchers to monitor media content in the run-up to elections in both Egypt and Tunisia. The results of the monitoring, which at times revealed biased coverage, were widely covered by media in both countries and led to debate and reflections in media on their professional standards.

The environment in which Egyptian journalists work became increasingly violent in 2012. A course on safety training for 20 Egyptian print and broadcast journalists in Cairo looked at the root causes of riots and how to deal with them, how to treat life-threatening injuries, and how to defuse anger to avoid conflict.

In Tunisia, the failure of the government to implement important media decrees and to establish an independent broadcast regulatory authority stalled the needed reform and development of the sector.

In 2012 IMS continued to work with Tunisia’s regulatory reform body INRIC providing advice on the reform of the audio-visual sector and on broadcasting regulation, as well as on the criteria for providing licenses for radio.

In addition to laws that protect and guide media, it is important to have concrete documentation of attacks on media which can be used in a court of law. Violence against media professionals in Tunisia in 2012 reached unprecedented levels. In response to this, the Tunis Centre for Press Freedom set up a dedicated unit with the support of IMS to monitor and document violations from insults and threats to physical attacks and censorship which can be used to illustrate the state of press freedom. In November and December alone more than 36 cases of harassment or attacks against journalists were registered, carried out by police, religious groups or members of the public uphappy with media behaviour or content. The centre also has the support of a lawyer who provides journalists with legal advice.

The strengthening of community radio to reach marginalised population groups in the rural areas with news that supports their participation in the country’s democratic process continues to be a cornerstone of IMS’ work in Tunisia. The World Association for Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) has with IMS support set up a network of 45 Tunisian community radios aimed at sharing experience and content across the country. AMARC and Tunisian stakeholders have also produced a national strategy for the community radio sector in Tunisia.

In Yemen, the adoption of the Access to Information Law in April 2012 brought with it a renewed sense of optimism regarding further media reform and an improved environment for media to work in. Through our local partner, Yemen Parliamentarians Against Corruption (YemenPAC), IMS raised awareness about the new law amongst media workers, and the government entities involved in implementing the new legislation. IMS also took part in the drafting process of an audiovisual law which will ensure the issuance of licenses for independent broadcast media once adopted by the government.

While the safety of journalists did improve in 2012, there were also instances of targeted attacks against media workers. IMS trained 30 journalists in secure communications, equipping journalists to work safely and protect their identities online.

In October 2012, Yemen Times Radio, a community-based FM radio station established by the independent newspaper Yemen Times began broadcasting in Sana’a with equipment and technical advice provided by IMS. The station broadcasts 10 hours daily to the general public and provides an important alternative to the state-monopolised broadcast media. Its programmes focus on everyday issues such as health, traffic, education and environment and a weekly segment features the Mayor of Sana’a answering questions from listeners. The station also organised a campaign to collect clothes for the city’s homeless for a colder than usual winter.

In Libya, initial euphoria and unity following the fall of former dictator Muammar Gadaffi was replaced with discontent and divided opinion in 2012. Most of the new media established since the revolution struggled with a lack of professionalism, and a shortage of finances and human resources.

In 2012 together with Libyan and international partners, IMS took a major step towards the establishment of the Libya Media Institute, the first national institute of its kind working for free and professional media in Libya. The Institute, which has brought together Libyan media actors to jointly identify the needs of the country’s media, will have branches in both Tripoli and Benghazi and will offer journalism training and encourage dialogue between Libyan media stakeholders. The Board of the institute has been established and registration will be granted in spring 2013.

To strengthen independent media output in the run-up to Libya’s elections in mid-2012 and thus broaden the public’s access to coverage on key social, economic and political issues, IMS took 64 media workers, of which one third were women, through an intensive Training-Production-Publishing scheme, spanning from in-house coaching on stories to overall layout of media products to media management. The four newspapers that partook in all steps of the training produced a special edition on the elections in June 2012. The result was a marked increase in circulation of the four media outlets, as well as new layouts, editing techniques and a broader readership. (See box page 30.)

In Iraq, a country where the media continues to be divided along religious, political and ethnic lines, IMS opened the country’s first telephone hotlines for journalists in danger in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan in March 2012 together with Iraqi partners. The hotline offers legal advice and investigates claims brought against journalists or authorities. In 2012, more than 2,500 calls were received and 17 cases investigated.

The Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), a network of young bloggers from across Iraq co-founded by IMS remains a highlight in an otherwise troubled media environment. The Network has bridged the gap between young bloggers in the historically divided Kurdish north and the Arab south. Around 60 bloggers spited historical differences and attended the first conference for bloggers in Iraq held in Iraqi Kurdistan in ­February 2012.

The Network managed to halt the adoption of a restrictive law on cybercrime in 2012 that would criminalise anyone who criticised the government on websites and social media networks. They created a Facebook page that tracked the law and opposition to it, and convened a forum in the province of Diwaniya bringing together some 30 parliamentary officials, judges, lawyers, bloggers and journalists to discuss the law. This led to the law being put on hold.

“The key is to work with the authorities, not against them as we are both working to fight IT crime,” says Heyder Hamzoz, Iraqi blogger and coordinator of the INSM network.

In a display of successful media business management following training by IMS, the independent newspaper Hawlati in Iraqi Kurdistan has turned loss to profit. The newspaper changed from a weekly to a daily and is now the first newspaper in Iraq to generate revenue that covers all expenses with a profit. Better use of staff and advertising and a change in content from only politics to arts, women and children’s issues has contributed to the paper’s progress. Hawlati now offers other independent media shared use of their printing facilities and is exploring door-to-door delivery subscriptions as the first newspaper in Iraq.

Documentary films are a platform for alternative voices that portray developments in society usually overlooked or more difficult to cover in mainstream media. In 2012, an exchange programme organised by IMS between film students from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco and The National Film School of Denmark resulted in 10 short documentaries that were screened at film festivals in Tunisia and Denmark. One film, “My Father looks like Abdel Nasser” by the Lebanese director Ms. Farah Kassem, was also selected for the Dubai International Film Festival and Ayam Beirut Al Cinama’iya.

Furthermore, 14 documentary films from across the Middle East, of which six had female directors, were supported by IMS through grants given by Screen Institute Beirut.

Regional and cross-regional collaboration enables a flow of know-how and knowledge between media communities. The institutional partnering or “twinning” set up by IMS of the Nordic TV collaboration “Nordvision” and the regional TV network “Arab­Vision” was launched in 2012. ArabVision is a partnership between four TV stations in the Arab world – ON TV, Egypt; Wattan TV, Palestine; Roya TV, Jordan; and Al Jadeed TV, Lebanon built on news exchange, programme exchange, co-production and know­ledge sharing.

A member of the Iraqi Network for Social Media attends the network’s first conference in Iraqi Kurdistan in February 2012. Photo: Mohammed Abdullah

IMS opens first hotlines for Iraqi journalists in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan

Mr. Shaaban, the lawyer who mans the hotline along with staff at the Legal Protection Center in Baghdad. Photo: Osama Al-Habahbeh/IMS

An increase in attacks and harassment of journalists in Iraq in 2012 led IMS to open the first telephone hotlines for journalists and media workers in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The hotlines are open 24/7 and manned by media lawyers who provide legal advice and defend journalists and bloggers harassed and prosecuted by authorities. Since the hotlines opened in March 2012, 2,500 calls have been answered and 17 cases investigated.

“The current laws offer little protection for journalists and are difficult to understand. Also, courts do not investigate the validity of cases before they are brought before the court,” says Sardasht Abdullrahman, general manager of the Iraqi Kurdistan Hotline.

Not only journalists, but also lawyers struggle to understand the laws that cover media in Iraq. IMS has trained around 20 lawyers from both Kurdistan and Baghdad in the existing laws that cover media as well as addressed the loopholes in the law that can be used by journalists to protect themselves.

“I defended a journalist who had a claim reported against him by the president of Iraq for writing that the president had hired a close relative in an important job. The journalist was accused of writing false information – but as his story was true I won the case. There were no legal grounds for the claim,” says Mr. Shaaban, the lawyer who mans the Baghdad-based hotline.

The hotline center in Iraqi Kurdistan has tel. number 3344 and Baghdad has tel. number 3355.

Roaya – a vision for Libya

The Roaya team. Photo: Per Vinther

“I want Roaya newspaper to be part of real free media. Not just for Roaya, but for Libya”, says Aladin Salama, co-founder of Roaya, one of the few independent weekly newspapers to have survived tough market conditions since it was born during the revolution in Libya in March 2011.

Born out of an idea between two friends, the paper is now run with the help of 15 volunteers of which many are women. Their key word is “quality journalism” which they strive to achieve despite the fact that none of them have journalism backgrounds. What they do have is plenty of energy and dedication.

“The only training we get is through courses in journalism run by international organisations and these courses help us to develop our skills,” says Khalid Elfitory, Editor in Chief of Roaya, who took part in an intensive journalism course conducted by IMS. The course which was carried out in the run-up to Libya’s elections, included coaching on stories, layout and media management.

As part of the course, Roaya produced a special edition on the elections in June 2012. This resulted in a marked increase in circulation, as well as a new layout, editing techniques and a broader readership.


2012 was marked by a decline in press freedom in Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Ongoing repression in Belarus and Ukraine intensified in connection with elections as authorities and other power holders sought to control and influence independent media through judicial measures, intimidation, and attacks. In Azerbaijan, the hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest and the Internet Governance Forum drew international attention to the country’s continued human rights abuses, and an increase in attempts by authorities to control public opinion online.

In Kyrgyzstan, wounds from the country’s ethnic conflict in 2010 had yet to heal, and the media continued to struggle with financial instability and poor professional standards. In Tajikistan, which suffered a violent conflict in the southern Gorno-Badakhshan province in July, authorities retained their control over the media through economic and judicial pressure, leaving little room for independent journalism.

IMS’ strategic areas of focus in the increasingly restrictive and dangerous environments for media in Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia was the safety of journalists, both through training, practical measures as well as advocacy campaigns aimed at governments and international audiences; promoting media law reform where possible to protect the rights of journalists; and strengthening independent media content and alternative voices to provide citizens with an alternative to government discourse. IMS’ approach was anchored in close partnerships with local and international media and civil society organisations to ensure that our support matched the concrete needs expressed by local media and to ensure a harmonisation of efforts amongst international media support organisations working in the region to develop media and press freedom.

The Caucasus

Media in Azerbaijan experienced a slew of violations throughout 2012 as authorities turned to physical force, abductions, and imprisonment in an attempt to silence journalists and other ­critical voices.

In response to the deteriorating security situation for journalists both online and offline, IMS worked in close collaboration with local partners to provide journalists with courses on secure communications, covering topics such as encryption, anonymity and secure browsing. Throughout the year, a special 24/7 safety hotline operated by Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) provided immediate and easy access to legal advice, medical help and transportation for nearly 200 journalists facing danger. To address needs for improved physical protection, IMS’ partner IRFS distributed special press vests in a bright green colour to 150 journalists to increase their ­visibility and safety.

“These vests are very important. When I was in Guba on 1 March 2012 to cover a mass public protest I didn’t wear one, so a policeman thought I was one of the protesters and attacked me. After this incident I got a safety vest from IRFS and now I wear it on all occasions to ensure my own safety,” says Tapdig Farhadoglu, a local Azerbaijani journalist working for Voice of America.

Realising the potential of the internet for political mobilisation and to shape public opinion, the Azerbaijani authorities blocked a number of opposition news websites, raided internet cafés, ­imprisoned so-called “cyber dissidents”, and campaigned against social network sites. Countering this increase in restrictions on Freedom of Expression online, IMS in close partnership with IRFS supported the launch of the internet freedom watchdog coalition Expression Online, which campaigned for improved internet access and freedom in the run-up to the Internet Governance Forum in November, and successfully advocated for the release of three human rights defenders who were arrested for uploading ­videos to YouTube.

As part of a city “beautification” campaign in preparation for the Eurovision, authorities in the capital Baku forcibly evicted homeowners, demolished homes, and clamped down on independent media reporting on the situation. Local organisations including IRFS created the Sing for Democracy campaign, which shone a light on human rights abuses and pushed the government for reform in the areas of property rights, and media and political freedoms. IMS followed the campaign closely.

Complementing these advocacy initiatives and to provide an alternate source of information in the country’s restrictive legal environment, IMS through its local partner the Azerbaijan Youth Media Center, provided training in the production of creative multimedia publications, which are shared in the online magazine Sancaq, currently one of the most popular Facebook pages among the Azerbaijani youth.

Eastern Europe

In Belarus, the conditions for independent media remained very critical throughout 2012 with severe limitations on press freedom. Low voter turnout in the country’s parliamentary elections in September demonstrated a decrease in voters’ trust in authorities and a growing public demand for independent news and information. With a steady growth in individual users in 2012, 40 per cent of the Belarusian citizens were able to access the internet, but a number of popular national and international websites remained blocked by the Belarusian authorities or were inaccessible from all state-related institutions. Through its partner in spirit, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), IMS closely monitored the media situation in the country throughout 2012.

The media in Ukraine was subjected to increased government pressure in 2012 with political attempts to influence the coverage of the country’s parliamentary elections in October, which suffered from a lack of balanced reporting. Against this backdrop, IMS sought to push forward the implementation of the Law on Access to Public Information, Ukraine’s most significant achievement in the past couple of years in the area of freedom of information. Passed in 2011 with the support of IMS, the progressive law secures the right of journalists and citizens to access public and official information within a reasonable time.

“Because the new law significantly shortens the timeframe for providing information, access to information requests are now being used as a real tool by practicing journalists, and public authorities strive to meet the deadlines set in the law,” says Olga Sushko, the lawyer in charge of Access to Information cases at IMS’ partner, the Ukranian Media Law institute (MLI).

To put the new legislation into practice, IMS in close partnership with the Ukrainian organisation Centre for Political Studies and Analysis (CPSA), published an Access to Information Handbook. Through documented best practices and experiences, the handbook assists journalists and civil activists in understanding and using the law to gain access to information previously held in secret by state institutions. With support from IMS, MLI also provided a free consultancy service to help media, activists and the general public to request access to information using the new law.

In response to the increasingly oppressive environment for the media, 77 journalists and editors from across Ukraine also received anti-censorship training covering practical advice and tips on how to stay professional even under the most challenging of circumstances.

Central Asia

In Kyrgyzstan, in 2012 it became clear that there were wounds which time alone would not heal. While the relationship between ethnic Kyrgyz and ­Uzbeks in the country’s south remained ­stable, the violence which erupted between the two groups in June 2010 has left an enduring mark on the Kyrgyz society.

The IMS-supported Kloop Media Foundation continued its efforts to build bridges between the two ethnic groups through fair and balanced web news and radio programming in Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Russian. Available online at radio.kloop.kg, Kloop’s radio programmes expanded their reach in 2012 through rebroadcasting agreements with nine ­local, regional and national radio stations across the country, including in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the country’s large minority of ethnic Uzbeks live. Two Uzbek language radio stations also began broadcasting the news programmes.

Throughout the year, Kyrgyz media struggled with poor sales and low advertising revenue, forcing them to rely on sources of income tied to political agendas. To address a need for professional and balanced journalism, Kloop organised two journalism school trainings for over 50 students in the spring and summer of 2012.

Beyond the difficulties for independent media outlets in achieving financial stability, the media sector in Kyrgyzstan also faced the challenge of low professional standards. Responding to this, IMS continued its support to the Public Association of Journalists (PAJ), one of the central institutions campaigning for the rights of journalists in the country. PAJ launched a series of professional trainings of over 70 mid-career journalists in international journalism standards and ethics, as well as investigative journalism and online news writing.

"Coming back from the trainings, our journalists had gotten a more responsible attitude about their work, and seem to really understand the importance of their own role in society, and how they can contribute to improving it,” says Jazgul Zhamangulova, Chief Editor of Radio Maral FM, commenting on journalists from his radio station who took part in the IMS-supported training for mid-career journalists.

The media sector in Tajikistan continued to struggle with high levels of corruption and strict state control over both state and private media outlets through economic and judicial measures, leaving journalists to impose high levels of self-censorship to avoid retribution. The strained relationship between the media and authorities presented a major challenge for independent journalists in obtaining official information from the authorities.

To strengthen the relationship between media and the government and to improve the media’s access to government information, IMS supported the work of the umbrella organisation National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT) which brought together 81 journalists and 40 press officers from ministry and government departments to improve the interaction and understanding between the two groups.

A journalist covers a protest in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku in 2012. Photo: IRFS

“Zero tolerance for criticism” in Azerbaijan

In early March thousands of protesters took to the streets of Guba in northern Azerbaijan to demand the resignation of a local official. The protests were triggered by a YouTube video showing the governor making derogatory remarks about local residents. Authorities arrested over a dozen people in their response to the protests, including journalists Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev who were accused of provoking the protests by uploading the video to YouTube.

The cases of the two journalists are chronicled alongside dozens of others in the IMS-supported report “Azerbaijan’s critical voices in danger” (pictured). Published as part of a large advocacy campaign, the report provides documentation which can be used by civil society to counter the Azerbaijani government’s attempts to suppress critical voices.

“The government has zero tolerance for criticism, and that’s the main reason for the prosecution and intimidation of critical voices,” said Emin Huzeynov, Chairman of Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the organisation behind the report. “We call on the authorities to seriously investigate and prosecute all cases of violence against journalists.”

After a year’s imprisonment, the two journalists Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev were released in March 2013 on suspended sentences.