At this year’s Exile Media Forum in Hamburg, exiled journalists from around the world shared their experiences and strategies for continuing their work in exile. Although the reasons they have had to go into exile are as different as the conditions in their respective countries of residence, the challenges they face are often very similar. Temporary residence permits, lack of access to much-needed resources, and the ubiquity of security threats are common accompaniments to working in exile. Nonetheless, many journalists and media outlets have successfully adapted to the adverse conditions.
The rise of authoritarian regimes worldwide is forcing more and more independent journalists into exile. At the Exile Media Forum, organized by the Körber Foundation in cooperation with the Justice for Journalists Foundation, journalists from Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine talked about their often successful attempts to continue reporting from various countries of exile. For all of them, maintaining the connection to their target audiences and accessing information on the ground are big challenges, which is why a lot of exiled media outlets continue working with reporters and sources on site. Ensuring their protection is a major concern. The Exile Media Forum hosted two exchange formats on digital security and tools to protect both sources and sensitive documents.
“We are outlawed by the Russian state. As an ‘undesirable organization’ we are not allowed to operate on Russian territory under threat of prosecution. Our readers can only access our content through VPN. We worry about our sources and all the people who stayed in Russia. This is more like a James Bond movie than journalism.”
Ekaterina Glikman, founder and first deputy editor-in-chief Novaya Gazeta Europe
HIDE AND SEND
Circumventing blockages and censorship require creativity and sometimes sophisticated technical solutions. The exiled South Sudanese daily news service and current affairs broadcaster Radio Tamazuj uses shortwaves to reach its audience, because FM frequencies are controlled and allocated by the state. Novaya Gazeta Europe is encouraging their readers to co-host a local VPN network to bypass the blockage of independent media in Russia. Other media outlets are moving their content to social media platforms like Telegram or YouTube or are offering their own apps.
JOURNALISM AND ACTIVISM
Another much discussed questions at the conference was whether journalism and activism can be distinguished at all in the face of persecution or the threat of imprisonment. When journalists withstand censorship, restrictive laws or persecution, and if they risk being imprisoned as political prisoners, the answer at first glance seems to be no. However, many voices at the conference argued for a clear separation. Among them Anton Lysenkov, founder and editor-in-chief of SPEKTR.PRESS, a Russian-language web-magazine operating from Latvia.
“I am strictly against the confusion of the words ‘activism’ and ‘journalism’. I want to work as an independent journalist, and as such I am obliged to objectivity. I would even interview the devil himself, and he will be treated just like everybody else. He will be fact-checked and brought into broader context.”
Anton Lysenkov, founder and editor-in-chief SPEKTR.PRESS
NEEDS AND OFFERS
With all the strategic and financial challenges journalists in exile are facing, the issue of mental health often falls by the wayside. In addition to the often -traumatic experiences that journalists have made in their countries of origin, life in exile is also a psychological burden. Unresolved residence statuses and the resulting difficulty in planning one’s own professional and private life, as well as the permanent worry about friends and family who have remained in the country, have a detrimental effect on mental health. In addition, numerous cases from the recent past prove that journalists are also spied on, persecuted and threatened in exile.
In order to strengthen independent and sustainable journalism in exile, a comprehensive understanding of the needs of journalists in exile is needed as well as a support structure that is able to address all their needs holistically. The Exile Media Forum offered a vital platform for the necessary exchange between exiled journalists and civil society organizations. In addition to the JX Fund, nine other civil society associations and programs have presented their work and offers:
- AJSO – Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization
- BIMEX – Berlin Incubator for Media in Exile
- Digital Security Lab
- ECPMF – European Centre for Press and Media Freedom
- Justice for Journalists Foundation
- Media for Peace
- MiCT – Media in Cooperation and Transition
- NEMO – Network of Exiled Media Outlets