Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is marking its 30th anniversary by publishing a report that looks back on the three decades it has spent defending freedom of information.
Entitled “Saving independent journalism - 30 years defending media,” the report examines what RSF has done on behalf of freedom of information for the past 30 years, what it is doing now, and the issues involved. It looks at RSF’s biggest campaigns, its battles for the release of detained journalists, the demonstrations it has organized, its lobbying of international organizations, and its practical assistance for journalists who have been threatened, physically attacked or forced to flee abroad. And RSF pays tribute to its information heroes in an overview encompassing both details and big issues.
“The big little NGO”
From its creation in Montpellier in 1985 to its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, Reporters Without Borders has grown to become an international NGO with a presence in all five continents and consultative status with the United Nations and UNESCO. Nowadays its activities span the entire globe thanks to a network of more than 150 correspondents and 12 international bureaux and sections.
In a forward to the report, secretary-general Christophe Deloire borrows from Victor Hugo’s description of the street urchin Gavroche to define Reporters Without Borders as a “big little NGO.” Now aged 30, RSF has become a “very big little NGO,” Deloire adds. “In the new propaganda era we are entering, the world needs Reporters Without Borders. Whether totalitarian, violent or soft, information control is taking unprecedented forms that free citizens must oppose with all their strength.”
Resolute activism is one of RSF’s defining characteristics. It boldly launched a pirate radio station in the centre of Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. It went to Kiev in 2002 and came back with samples of a murdered journalist’s body to have independent forensic analyses done on them and thereby force an apathetic judge to take action. It took part in a commission of enquiry into the death of Norbert Zongo, a journalist killed in his car in Burkina Faso in 1998, and kept fighting until the official investigation was reopened 16 years later.
RSF’s ability to wage an effective campaign is another of its characteristics. Ever since the case of Brice Fleutiaux, a journalist who was taken hostage in Chechnya in 1999, Reporters Without Borders has mobilized massive public support for more than 20 hostage journalists. The projection on to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris of the photos of Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière, two French journalists who were hostages in Afghanistan, will live on as a symbol of this tireless commitment to journalists kidnapped in the world’s most dangerous regions. After being freed, Taponier and Ghesquière themselves said how important this campaign was during their captivity. When French reporters Didier François, Édouard Élias and Nicolas Hénin and photographer Pierre Torres were kidnapped in Syria in 2013, RSF again campaigned on their behalf until their release in 2014.
Helping media and protecting journalists
When five employees of the daily newspaper Oslobodenje were killed by an artillery bombardment of its headquarters during the siege of Sarajevo, RSF decided to come to the aid of this symbol of resistance to the violence enveloping the region. It provided the newspaper with newsprint, food and even an armour-plated truck to protect its journalists. In Haiti, just days after the 2010 earthquake, RSF set up a media operations centre in Port-au-Prince. Nowadays, RSF supports Paris-based Radio Erena, the world’s only independent radio station broadcasting to Eritrea.
RSF goes to the hotspots. In Ukraine in 2014, it sent protective helmets, goggles and masks for the journalists who were covering the clashes in Maidan Square. It has provided training in physical self-protection for around 100 journalists in Pakistan, where reporting is becoming more and more dangerous in the Tribal Areas. Emergency funding is sent to journalists to help them find a safe refuge, get medical attention or obtain legal aid.
30, a good age
RSF continues to provide unfailing support for those who often risk their lives to inform others. Whether Mazen Darwish in Syria, Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia and Gao Yu in China, they are trapped by oppressive systems based on an intolerable level of censorship. RSF also campaigns tirelessly for freedom of information even when the attempts to silence independent voices occur in the most democratic countries, even when the targets are whistleblowers like Edward Snowden
Despite many challenges, Reporters Without Borders will continue to defend freedom of information and media independence with determination, intensity and audacity.