In 2013, the media in several African countries was once again caught in the midst of overwhelming violence and humanitarian crises. In Mali, journalists struggled to overcome the impact of the armed rebellion and subsequent conflict that began in 2012, while an eruption of violence in December in 2013 in South Sudan put a fragile media sector under increasing pressure. In the Central African Republic, the need for humanitarian information escalated rapidly when a devastating conflict intensified towards the end of the year. In Somalia, the need for humanitarian information remained dire despite positive political and security developments, and in neighbouring Kenya, the September Westgate mall attack highlighted once again the need for a holistic and comprehensive approach to journalist safety.
IMS’ work across the African continent in 2013 emphasised our commitment to work with media that face some of the most trying challenges in the world. This work takes place in recognition of the fact that to survive and overcome armed conflicts and humanitarian crises, societies need a wide range of assistance. This includes short-term support to the media like broadcasting equipment that enables them to relay reliable information to and from populations in times of crisis, and more long-term comprehensive reinforcement in areas such as media law reform and the institutionalisation of professional practices that will allow the media to act a constructive role in later peacebuilding efforts.
In 2013, Somalia’s journalists and the country’s population as a whole continued to suffer the impact of the country’s long-running armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. The IMS-supported Radio Ergo continued throughout the year to provide the population with indispensable humanitarian information covering everything from disaster mitigation and disease prevention, to livestock prices that empower farmers and pastoralists. Ergo also continued to act its key role in bridging a communication gap between Somalis and relief agencies, enabling humanitarian workers to better design their aid interventions.
An encouraging voice message left on Radio Ergo’s Freedom Fone service by a listener in Somalia’s northern Cayn region
“Radio Ergo’s broadcasts serve as a significant platform for us in order to profile and position humanitarian aid interventions, specific concerns, and general developments regarding Somalia,” said Alexandra Strand Holm, Regional Communications Officer, Danish Refugee Council.
Based on direct feedback from listeners calling the radio’s new Freedom Fone voice message service, Ergo expanded its programming to include a weekly segment focusing on the vast Somali diaspora, a drama series on the possible return to home of the huge amounts of internally displaced persons, and a polio vaccination awareness campaign.
Together with IMS, Ergo also facilitated the setup of a network of 18 Somali radio stations. A first-of-its-kind, the network will work to address the challenges of the Somali media sector by acting with a unified voice on media law issues, strengthening the capacities of journalists and media houses, and producing joint programming to promote peace, stability and development.
2013 saw the Central African Republic embroiled in a devastating conflict and a growing humanitarian crisis. Intense fighting between the predominantly Muslim Séléka and the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia groups worsened towards the end of the year and in early 2014, with widespread massacres committed by the anti-balaka against Muslim civilians.
With massive security issues, fear resulting in self-censorship, destroyed infrastructure, and distrust between journalists and relief agencies, the Central African media was faced with an almost insurmountable challenge in covering the situation, found an IMS analysis conducted in December 2013 and January 2014. With large parts of the population left with little information on the crisis and with no ways to voice their urgent needs, the analysis found a clear need to boost humanitarian information and communication efforts.
2013 ended violently in South Sudan when brutal ethnic violence worsened in the Jonglei and Unity states from December onwards and left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. While the eruption of violence put the already fragile media under severe pressure, 2013 also included the encouraging endorsement of three media bills by the country’s parliament in July after years of advocacy and legal input from IMS’ local partner, the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS). The three bills, which in early 2014 had yet to be passed by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, cover media regulation, access to information and public service broadcasting.
As part of our work under the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, IMS together with AMDISS and the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) brought together journalists and security forces with the aim of enhancing the safety of the media and enabling constructive collaboration between the two groups. Similar initiatives in Iraq, Pakistan, and Colombia have shown that such dialogue-based initiatives help build mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities and pushes the media and security forces to recognise their shared goal of serving the public and of finding common ground in support of peaceful development.
Fears that Kenya’s March Presidential election would lead to a repeat of the widespread violence of 2007-2008 did not materialise, although sporadic violence did break out in the lead-up to the vote. For the media, 2013 brought with it one of the most repressive pieces of legislation in the country’s history. Passed in December, the contentious Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill marked a major setback for press freedom in the country with a new government-controlled regulatory board authorised to impose hefty fines on media houses and journalists.
The killing of 67 people in the Al-Shabaab attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September put journalists under both physical threat and emotional distress. At a meeting for editors and journalists convened by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), editors said their journalists were untrained and unprepared to cover dangerous events like the Westgate siege.
To ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to improving the safety of Kenya’s journalists, MCK in collaboration with IMS began in late 2013 the development of a national strategy on the safety of journalists, which will provide rapid responses to urgent requests and also attend to the need for more structural changes in Kenya’s media environment. The strategy goes hand-in-hand with a journalist handbook published in 2014 by IMS and MCK on dealing with the psychological impact of traumatic experiences.
Although still marked by a severely fragile security situation and press freedom violations, Mali’s media did see some encouraging progress in 2013. This included slight improvements in the safety of journalists and a reopening of radio stations and newspapers closed in 2012 during the conflict in the country’s north. Despite this, the media still faced a number of basic hurdles to overcome, including widespread lack of electricity and infrastructure in the north and a press corps unaware of how to cover peace and reconciliation issues.
A radio journalist in Mali provides feedback after she took part in an IMS course on conflict sensitive journalism
Against this backdrop, our work in Mali in 2013 sought to enable the media to contribute to peacebuilding efforts and intercommunity dialogue in close collaboration with Media Foundation for West Africa and Panos Institute West Africa. In April and June, intensive workshops on conflict sensitive journalism and professional content production took place to strengthen the ability of the media to amplify the voices of people affected by the ongoing conflict, and to foster public debate between local communities and the institutions expected to provide for their needs.
Crucially, our work also focused on sharing journalistic content between the north and south of Mali to enable people to gain a better understanding of the conflict’s dynamics, and to enable them to overcome communal tension.
From homeless to homeowners
Mohamud Mohamed Abdi and his wife were living in a tiny shack with their seven children in Baidoa in southern Somalia. Disabled through illness, the couple was earning a pitiful existence by sitting in the hot sun breaking rocks into smaller stones for construction. After the IMS-supported Radio Ergo aired their story, a group of young people began to raise money to help them.
“The story made us feel sad and we couldn’t ignore their suffering,” said Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim, one of the young people who contributed funds.
“What we found was that the family lived in an overcrowded, small, makeshift room and some family members often slept outside,” Ibrahim told Radio Ergo’s local reporter. “We then contacted local businesses in the community to raise funds and get support.”
The youth group managed to raise almost USD 3,000, and spent it on building a new house with two rooms, a kitchen, and a toilet. Abdi and his family were clearly overwhelmed: “We are very grateful to the youths. They have transformed our lives from being homeless to homeowners.”
Ethnic conflict and crucial elections significantly affected media environments in South and Southeast Asia in 2013. The ethnic unrest in Myanmar cast a wider spotlight on Buddhist-Muslim tensions in the Southeast Asian region and highlighted the role and behaviour of both traditional and social media in conflict reporting.
In Pakistan, elections in May provided hope for democratic improvements, but the country instead saw journalists sandwiched between the Taliban and other interest groups who threatened media to control information flows. In Afghanistan, the prospect of milestone elections in 2014 and the withdrawal of international troops in 2015, sparked uncertainty and a deteriorating security environment for media and civil society.
Elections in Nepal in November were deemed largely successful, but Nepali media still suffered a spate of intimidations from political parties and youth groups, propagating self-censorship. Bhutan, on the other hand, took positive steps forward in civil and political liberties including in media freedoms following the government’s interest in reforming and modernising the media system.
IMS’ partnership approach, which focuses on working closely with other likeminded organisations and on aligning our priorities with those of the local media was a common feature throughout our work in South and Southeast Asia in 2013. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity rolled out in Pakistan and Nepal by IMS, UNESCO, Open Society Foundations (OSF) and local partners, was a prime example of this.
The arrival of Myanmar’s first private daily newspapers on the streets of Yangon in April 2013 marked another important milestone in the string of reforms in the country’s media sector since 2011. Through partnerships with journalist associations, media workers, ministries and international media development organisations, and reinforced by a strong presence on the ground, IMS focused on media law reform in support of a safe media environment, strengthening institutions that educate and advocate the rights of journalists and professionalising journalistic content and skills.
As the first international organisation in Myanmar, IMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cement our cooperation with a range of key players, including the country’s newly established press council, journalist associations and the Ministry of Information, committing the signatories to work together on media law reform. Together with the Centre for Law and Democracy, IMS thus provided input to all tabled media laws, including the draft Broadcast Law and Public Service Law. Crucially, Myanmar’s first code of ethics for media, was drafted by the Interim Press Council with IMS’ support.
U Thiha Saw, Vice-chairman of Myanmar Journalists‘ Association
The need to address professionalism in journalism, and ethical standards in particular, was evident in the area of conflict reporting with examples of hate speech fueling existing tensions in conflict-ridden areas. IMS worked to promote a peaceful role of media during conflict and in peace negotiations through support to the Myanmar Peace Center which promotes peaceful dialogue. More than 400 journalists were trained in conflict sensitive journalism in 11 different cities, including in the conflict-plagued Rakhine and Kachin states.
In February, the fifth annual Yangon Photo Festival showcased some of Myanmar’s finest photo journalism work, the result of intensive multimedia photojournalism workshops for aspiring photojournalists organised by IMS in Yangon and in the conflict-ridden parts of the country.
“For some students, portraying life through the lens of a camera has been the first real opportunity to openly express themselves and show sides to Burmese life which have not been documented previously,” said trainer for IMS and curator of the festival, Christophe Loviny. IMS has trained more than 170 photojournalists since 2009, some of whom now work for international agencies such as Reuters and AFP.
In Nepal, the media climate remained uncertain in 2013, although there were less physical attacks on journalists than in 2012, according to the US-based organisation Freedom House.
IMS’ efforts focused on building a safer working environment for journalists and working to push forward the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity together with UNESCO and OSF. Tied to this work was IMS’ collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nepal to support its planned efforts to establish a national mechanism to improve the safety of journalists.
Pakistan was the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2013. In a year of violent elections and worsening security, IMS focused on improving the capacity of journalists to report professionally and safely in crisis-affected areas and on improving relations between Afghan and Pakistani media.
The twin blasts that killed three journalists in Quetta in January 2013 highlighted the need to further strengthen the safety of journalists in the country. IMS’ package of safety activities carried out in partnership with OSF and UNESCO, included research on media safety and legal defence clinics for media lawyers in which they were trained in media law.
“If not for the IMS safety trainings we had in Quetta, more lives would have been lost due to the massive twin blasts in January,” said Tahir Ratore of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.
The International Conference on Protection and Safety of Journalists in Islamabad in March brought together senior government members, local media and international groups to launch the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in Pakistan. The Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety, comprising media unions, owners, media houses, and parliamentarians, was established at the meeting to coordinate work on media safety. A joint map tracking and monitoring media attacks has since been set up by the Coalition (http://mediasafety.pk) and discussions are ongoing about the appointment of a special prosecutor on media attacks and a legal aid fund for media.
The unstable political relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, prompted efforts to forge closer ties between journalists working on both sides of the border to improve informed coverage of cross-border issues and mutual understanding. A total of 14 journalist exchanges between the two countries took place facilitated by IMS and led one of Pakistan’s largest English-language dailies, Dawn, to station a correspondent in Kabul.
In a year that would become one of the most violent ever for Afghan journalists and with milestone elections ahead in 2014, the value of the IMS-founded, country-wide Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC) became evermore clear. AJSC monitored violations in 32 out of 34 provinces and provided medical, legal and trauma assistance in 76 cases of journalists in danger. For journalists who work in an environment where they are purposely targeted for their work, AJSC was a source of support across the country.
The comprehensive safety package for journalists set up by IMS, but locally anchored with and run by AJSC included safety training for male and female journalists, practical measures such as a 24-hour hotline to which more than 400 calls from journalists in distress were made in 2013, and a safety fund for journalists in peril. The package also includes facilitating dialogues between government officials, security forces and the Afghan media to improve mutual understanding and focus on the safety of journalists. In 2013, the government set up a Media Violence Council to handle violations against media. Although a positive step forward, the Council has yet to really establish its independence.
In preparation for the April 2014 elections, IMS and AJSC held media election “shuras” (roundtables) with Afghan media workers about the process of elections, the roles, and the safety of the media. In addition to this, AJSC set up and tested a countrywide alert system for Afghan media workers which informed media workers by mobile phone text messages and social media about election-related events and threats against journalists in their province. Media workers in turn were provided with the skills to report back to AJSC headquarters from election campaigns around the country.
One of the many platforms for exercising Freedom of Expression is documentary filmmaking where attention is given to societal issues that the regular press does not cover. In November, the annual Danish documentary film festival CPH:DOX, a central proponent of the strong Danish tradition for documentary filmmaking, invited four Chinese directors and 10 Chinese documentary films to feature in the festival’s special segment on China entitled Between chaos and control. IMS facilitated their participation as part of our mandate to promote documentary filmmaking as a platform for expression and alternative voices.
The promising steps taken by the government of Bhutan in 2013 to move from a state-controlled towards a more democratic media environment was a highlight in the South Asian region, which otherwise primarily encountered setbacks in terms of press freedom. IMS was pleased to assist the government and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in designing a three-year media development programme that addresses media regulation, community media outreach, and sustainability of private media. IMS and the Centre for Law and Democracy also provided technical advice for the formulation of an Access to Information law, and will continue in an advisory role to support the build-up of a new democratic media sector.
A time to document history in Myanmar
He started out as an award-winning classical pianist, but sold his piano to buy a camera. A few months later, he had his first international breakthrough and now belongs to the new generation of photojournalists in Myanmar set on documenting history in the country.
Min Zayar Oo is one of the many young photographers who has taken part in IMS-organised workshops in Yangon on photojournalism.
“In 2011 when I began taking photos, I primarily focused on landscape photography,” Min Zayar Oo explained. “But I also wanted to take pictures of something more important, more powerful, but didn’t know where to start.”
At the workshops, students were asked to tell a story through a series of images, combining photos with sound and text. Min Zayar Oo first chose to depict the beauty of giving birth, but instead ended up focusing on the unhygienic conditions in the hospital.
“I always thought a good picture was about technique, and having the best camera. But the workshops taught me that it is not about the camera. It is about the subject, about the message you want to convey with your photos and about ensuring that this message is important for the subject of your pictures.”
Depicting the lives of everyday people and the country’s ongoing conflicts remains a sensitive undertaking in Myanmar, although things are slowly changing. Since 2009, IMS has trained over 170 photojournalists in the art of telling stories with photos accompanied by text and sound for both digital and traditional media. See some of the amazing photo series here.
A climate of violence against and intimidation of journalists and media workers persisted in 2013 in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico as the justice systems in all three countries faced increasing exposure for their inability to break down a prevailing culture of impunity in the Latin American region.
From a near failed state in Honduras to a press corps still reeling from state surveillance in Colombia, the unifying factor tying together the regions of Central and South America was a toxic mix of intimidation and persecution of journalists by both organised crime groups and security forces.
Reporters in Colombia, covering the months-long anti-government demonstrations by peasant farmers in northern Catatumbo, were violently targeted by all sides.
In Honduras, allegations of law enforcement engaging in corruption and forming police death squads dogged the media with simultaneous threats by organised crime groups on the rise.
Similar to their Honduran colleagues, journalists in Mexico continued to be targeted, attacked and disappeared as competing drug cartels, law enforcement and the military battled throughout the country. Self-censorship increased as several media outlets sought refuge in this last safety resort.
In Colombia, IMS aims to work with media outlets and media support groups to encourage a positive and proactive role for the media in consolidating peace. To assist local media in addressing the rollout of the peace process, in 2013 IMS developed a new project to support the media’s role in promoting conflict reduction and shedding light on the peace process and the road to transition in three high-risk zones.
Based on a possible positive outcome in the peace talks in Havana, the time period of the programme will also involve the implementation phase following the signing of a peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC. This work will focus on enhancing conflict sensitive journalism reporting by local media outlets and will also involve extensive work with the security forces operating in these areas.
This safety work will be replicated in Honduras in 2014, where IMS aims to combine safety training and conflict sensitive journalism with a range of media outlets to boost coverage of sensitive topics like drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts through a new investigative journalism programme.
In the last quarter of 2013, as part of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, IMS, together with Open Society Foundations, pushed forward plans for the new year to establish a new safety fund for journalists in Mexico and to support safety monitoring by local press freedom groups in both Honduras and Mexico.
Since the uprisings in 2011 triggered major political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, protest movements and in some cases, violent conflict, have become a common feature in the region, putting the newfound space to exercise Freedom of Expression under pressure.
Syria and Iraq were submerged in violent conflict rendering them two of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013, and in Egypt and Libya the situation for media freedom also took a turn for the worse.
In Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, as well as Egypt, media faced profound challenges in providing populations with access to reliable and diverse information in 2013. Moves to reform media legislation were slow and a concentration of media ownership in the hands of cronies increased, brought on by a tendency of old regime segments to remain influential in media environments alongside new power elites.
These commonalities underscored the importance of IMS’ cross-cutting, regional activities in the Middle East and North Africa region to share best practices and forge partnerships between media through networks and our Twinning programme that partners peers across borders.
In 2013, our work continued to focus on improving the building blocks of a well-functioning media sector which include strengthening media environments through media laws that protect the rights of media and measures that provide media safety; supporting institutions that educate and advocate media rights; and professionalising media with a view to securing diversity and balanced content.
The changes in the political roadmap for Egypt in 2013 had a considerable impact on the media environment. Much of the progress achieved in 2011 and 2012 in terms of independent media and Freedom of Expression was halted and the diversity of media voices became scarce and the larger broadcast and print media openly partisan.
The lack of diversity in voices was clearly illustrated in the findings of a Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies media monitoring report, which looked at the Egyptian media’s coverage in the run-up to the constitutional referendum in December 2013 and January 2014. The review of some 20 media outlets found that Egypt’s media had “deliberately abandoned standards of diversity and balance, leaving no space for opposition of the constitution.” The findings were shared with the monitored media as a tool for self-reflection and with a view to improving coverage.
To broaden the diversity of voices in media, IMS worked with Mada Masr, a new, promising English-language online portal which became one of the leading sources of independent news and opinion in Egypt for both Egyptian and international audiences.
IMS also worked with Welad el-Balad, a network of local newspapers producing news in nine governorates in Egypt, challenging the centralisation of media in the major Egyptian cities and engaging with its local communities.
Tunisia’s media sector did not see any real reforms materialise in 2013. In an effort to advocate media law reform, several Tunisian partner organisations with IMS support established the Civil Coalition for the Defence of Freedom of Expression in late April 2013. The body facilitated debates on the Constitution, self-regulation, and attacks against journalists and pushed through significant changes in the draft Constitution.
The systematic documentation of violations committed against media becomes all the more important when the laws that protect the rights of journalists are not in place. With IMS support, the Tunis Centre for Press Freedom (TCPF) documented 500 cases of attacks on media across Tunisia in 2013 primarily committed by law enforcement and provided journalists with crucial legal support. In one case, web TV cameraman Mourad Mehrzi was jailed in August 2013 for having filmed a minor assault on a minister during a press conference. A TCPF lawyer ensured that the charges were dropped and Mehrzi was released in October.
In 2013, Syria was the world’s most dangerous environment for media to operate in. With media professionals targeted by multiple parties, the population’s access to independent and reliable reporting remained hampered throughout most of 2013 and media was left unable to play a conflict-reducing role to bridge divides and keep people informed. Radio Rozana set out to fill this gap.
Set up in Paris in July 2013 with IMS support, Radio Rozana, an independent radio station run by exiled Syrian journalists, worked to secure reliable, independent news content from Syria with the help of a strong network of local correspondents inside the country. The radio broadcasts talk radio with news and analysis to Syrians inside and outside the country on FM, via satellite and online on rozana.fm six hours a day.
At a time when most media coverage focuses on the unfolding violence, the website Syria Untold sheds light on civil society and non-violent dynamics in Syria with coverage of ongoing civil society movements. The website that IMS has taken part in developing was broadly cited as a source in international, regional and Syrian media in 2013, reflecting the breadth of its audience.
The Syrian Observer, an online news source, also contributed to a better understanding of the social, political and economic dynamics at play in Syria in 2013 through its English-language analyses, features and interviews. Its profile database of Syrian political and civil society actors and translated news content produced by Syria’s official press and opposition groups placed it on The Economist’s list of “must-reads” on Syria in 2013.
Towards the end of 2013, the initial lack of information inside Syria was slowly being met by an array of emerging media outlets. This prompted IMS to increas our focus on the quality and reliability of the information released, and on strengthening new media networks that may form the infrastructure of a future media environment in Syria.
The situation went from bad to worse in Iraq in 2013, with the country descending into ethnic sectarian conflict and journalists being consistently targeted for their coverage of the conflict. IMS thus intensified its focus on the safety and legal protection of journalists.
Under the auspices of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, IMS worked to provide legal protection and safety advice for journalists. Sixty volunteer lawyers and 10 judges established a network to provide legal advice and defence of journalists under pressure or facing charges from authorities. In another effort to promote the safety of journalists, IMS worked with partners to improve the dialogue and mutual understanding between media, authorities and security forces and towards the end of 2013, the foundation was laid for a Memorandum of Understanding regulating the relationship between the country’s security forces and journalists.
The Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), a network of young bloggers across Iraq coming together despite their different ethnic and religious backgrounds remained a highlight in the divided country. In an environment where women are generally marginalised, the Network increasingly became a space for female bloggers to share their opinions and develop their skills. Following targeted work by IMS to develop the social media skills of female bloggers, a network for female bloggers under the umbrella of INSM was established. In a parallel setting, a “gender forum” for civil society activists and journalists working to raise awareness of the UN convention against gender discrimination was set up as a result of IMS workshops on the issue of gender discrimination in Iraq.
In Yemen, the overall situation in 2013 continued to be volatile with major humanitarian challenges, and tensions between rivaling political, religious, and regional groups. Although no new media laws were passed in 2013, IMS’ partner YemenPAC followed up on the positive adoption of the Law on the Right of Access to Information in 2012 by working with media and civil servants to familiarise them with the rights and practices tied to the new law. A new press law and an audiovisual law are in the pipeline illustrating a positive will to continue media law reform in parliament.
The 10-month long National Dialogue Conference in 2013 was a significant milestone in Yemen’s transition of power. Over 500 delegates came together from various political and social factions in Yemen to discuss the future of the country. To enable citizens to take part in the debate, IMS and the Yemeni organisation Yemen 21 Forum and 12 media outlets launched a nationwide campaign informing the public through media, events, and ads about National Dialogue issues such as human rights, anticorruption, and female quotas in parliament. Mr. Khaldoon Ahmed, the owner of a local teashop in Aden said that he listened to the ads on the radio:
“I am glad someone is telling us what will happen. But now the question is when it will happen? And will it happen for real?”
In 2013, Libya continued to face huge challenges in the transition from a highly personalised, ‘stateless’ dictatorship to an institution-based system. One of the hurdles has been the virtual absence of any legitimate, functional, public institutions on which to build the foundation for a new democratic society. Therefore, the formal registration of the Libya Media Institute in 2013, Libya’s first national media facility, marked an important step for the media sector.
The aim of the Institute is to support the development of independent professional media in Libya, and to provide education and a neutral platform for dialogue between Libyan and international media partners. Since 2011, IMS has been working with partners to ensure broad buy-in to the institute from both local and international media stakeholders in Tripoli and Benghazi.
The potential of documentary film to provide a platform for alternative voices and views was illustrated through two internationally acclaimed IMS-supported documentaries: Return to Homs, a Syrian/German documentary and Sepideh, a Danish/Iranian documentary. As a major achievement for IMS’ work in documentary filmmaking, Sepideh, which follows a 15-year-old Iranian girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut, was screened publically in Iran at the Fajr Film Festival in 2013.
In 2013, IMS’ Twinning programme, a partnering of Danish and Arab media professionals, continued setting up new partnerships and promoting mutual understanding. In September, seven Danish and seven Palestinian journalists worked together in groups of two on the West Bank to challenge stereotypical notions of Palestine and its people. One Danish journalist, Gunvor Bjerre, thus reflected upon the five-day intensive visit upon her return:
“The trip changed my perception of the Palestinians as mainly victims, and made it easier to focus on the positive aspects—even though the negative aspects of life were crying out to be written about and documented.”
Return to Homs
The documentary film Return to Homs by filmmaker Talal Derki follows the journey of two close friends between 2011 and 2013 in the Syrian city of Homs whose lives had been upended by the battle raging in Syria. Nineteen-year-old Basset is the goalkeeper of the Syrian national soccer team. He has also become an iconic singer in the revolution. His songs reflect his dreams of a peaceful liberation from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Ossama is a 24-year-old media activist and pacifist who wields his camera to capture the revolution. When the army cracks down on Homs the two peaceful protesters finally take up arms. The documentary offers a rare insight into the casualties of conflict; not only of human lives, but of a city destroyed, full of reminders of what once was and of hopes and dreams quashed.
The IMS-supported Return to Homs was awarded the prestigious World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival in January 2014.
Relying on subtle yet thoroughly pervasive and effective methods to suppress independent journalists and critical voices, governments in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in 2013 stepped up their efforts to control the flow of news and information both online and offline.
In Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, presidential elections served to maintain a veneer of public order and legitimacy while authorities in reality suppressed the independent media. In Belarus, the few alternatives to the government-controlled media continued to struggle in a severely restrictive environment, while the independent media in Kyrgyzstan remained fairly free but also somewhat inexperienced. The notable exception to the relative political stability of these countries was Ukraine, where the country’s media was put under severe pressure by the violent clashes between authorities and civilians that began in late 2013, and the later crisis between Ukraine and Russia in 2014.
The silencing of independent voices whether through subtle techniques or targeted attacks in 2013 once again highlighted the acute need for extensive media reforms in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Throughout the year, IMS and its partners took real strides to meet this need by enabling journalists to produce high quality content, strengthening future media and civil society leaders, and securing the right and ability of journalists and independent voices to express themselves freely. This work was firmly rooted in close partnerships with local and international media and civil society groups to ensure that it addressed the challenges expressed by local media in the most effective and efficient ways.
Changes to our funding meant that activities in Azerbaijan and Ukraine were halted in late 2012 but were well under way again in June.
In Azerbaijan, an unrelenting crackdown on Freedom of Expression continued in 2013 in the lead-up to the country’s October presidential election. Throughout the year, authorities arrested human rights defenders, imprisoned critical journalists, and adopted laws to further restrict fundamental freedoms.
The crackdown also targeted online freedoms through harassment of online activists and bloggers, through politically motivated surveillance, and by the government extending criminal defamation provisions to online content. Through a series of fact-based research reports and consultations with high-level officials, IMS’ partner, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) spent much of 2013 calling on the international community to put pressure on the government to right its wrongs both online and offline.
In Azerbaijan, as in most other countries, putting pressure on the government by raising international awareness of human rights abuses is an exceedingly difficult exercise because it involves the dynamics of international relations and politics, and because civil society groups and the international community do not always have sufficient leverage at their disposal. Taking on these challenging conditions, IRFS emerged as a strong voice in the struggle for national policy change and as a leading resource for human rights advocates in Azerbaijan. This enabled IRFS to push for the kind of change that IMS aspires to bring about—change that will allow media and citizens to exercise their rights to Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
2013 marked the beginning of a decisive period in Ukraine’s history. The developments that began with the Euromaidan protests in November turned into violent unrest, and extended into 2014 with the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent political crisis between Ukraine and Russia. The events had a disastrous impact on the media with scores of journalists assaulted, killed, and silenced through intimidation and harassment.
In response to the overwhelming amount of violent attacks on the media, IMS’ partner, Media Law Institute (MLI) opened a hotline for journalists who had had their rights violated, offering legal advice and support. MLI also sought to strengthen the safety of journalists by distributing press vests through Ukraine’s national journalism groups.
Throughout the year, IMS and MLI worked to further institutionalise and put into practice past years’ positive developments in Ukraine’s media legislation. This included strengthening the skills of media lawyers to enable them to better protect journalists in court, promoting the 2011 Law on Access to Public Information, and enabling journalists to protect themselves through improved understanding of their rights and obligations.
The critical situation for Freedom of Expression in Belarus saw next to no actual improvements in 2013. Restrictive legislation and economic regulation gave the independent media little possibility to develop or compete with state-owned media, which make up the large majority of available mainstream sources of information. One of the few positive developments that did occur was the Belarusian government’s invitation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, who appealed to the Belarusian authorities to end the practice of short-term detention of journalists covering public events, and emphasised the need for a profound reform of the media’s legislative framework.
Despite political instability, shortcomings in law enforcement and the judiciary and high levels of corruption, Kyrgyzstan remained in 2013 a relatively bright spot among its Central Asian neighbours for Freedom of Expression. The country’s reasonably free media environment was unfortunately paired with low professional standards, and some parts of the media community lacked the ability to take active part in the reconciliation of Uzbek and Kyrgyz groups who clashed violently in 2010.
IMS continued its efforts to enable the media to perform such a reconciliatory role by working with Kloop Media Foundation, a popular online and FM-based news platform that seeks to bridge the divide between the two ethnic groups through multilingual news and skills-training of aspiring journalists. While Kloop normally buys airtime from radio stations, 2013 offered the encouraging exchange of professional services when the popular Birinchi Radio instead of payment requested training in website development from Kloop’s talented staff. As an isolated development, this was a small refinement of Kloop’s business model, but also more widely reflects IMS’ general aspiration of enabling local media to sustain themselves and engage in fruitful partnerships.
In the same vein as Kloop’s reconciliation-focused work, IMS and the organisation Public Association “Journalists” brought Kyrgyz and Uzbek students together to produce the newspaper Danek. Distributed across schools in the city of Osh, where the 2010 clashes took place, the paper sought to educate budding journalists and students from an early age about Kyrgyz and Uzbek cultural values to foster a better understanding between the two groups.
In Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon was re-elected with an exceedingly comfortable margin to a fourth term in office in November. With a widening crackdown on Freedom of Expression in the run-up to the election, independent media faced growing difficulties in providing voters with adequate information to enable them to cast their ballots in a meaningful way.
IMS worked with its partners to ensure that the little available room for the independent media to cover the electoral process was used to bring attention to voting irregularities and to educate voters on the programmes of the political candidates.
Beyond the work connected to the election, IMS also continued its collaboration with the youth organisation Dast ba Dast (Hand in Hand), which provides young people with the skills to produce professional radio news. In addition to the immediate success of reaching an estimated audience of over one million listeners in 2013, the aspiring journalists also benefited from strengthened leadership skills enabling them to take more active part in improving their own lives and local environments.
In a similarly encouraging way, a select group of representatives from non-governmental organisations took part in a summer school in August to enhance their skills in basic journalism and social media use. Organised by the Dushanbe-based ICT Centre and The Independent School of Journalism, the school paved the way for the online network Youth Media Support, and enabled participants to carry out their own trainings, passing on their skills to their peers so that they may be developed further in a locally driven manner.