World Press Freedom Day 2019 | Institute for War and Peace Reporting

IWPR SPOTLIGHT

World Press Freedom Day 2019

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A Note from IWPR Executive Director

Anthony Borden
Anthony Borden
IWPR Executive Director
On World Press Freedom Day we celebrate the courageous local journalists and local people caught up in crises around the world.

Reporters at the frontlines of vicious and enduring conflicts such as Syria are exposed to the most immediate risk and suffer the highest rates of death and injury. In transitional societies with widespread corruption, whether in developing countries or in Europe, journalists shining a light on malfeasance are targeted directly and face high rates of attack. Under repressive regimes, as Latin America, Africa and Asia, media is highly controlled and independent voices routinely risk imprisonment, torture and exile.

IWPR works to empower those on the front lines of independent journalism every day.

Our work at IWPR evolved from the power of witness and the passion to give honest voice to local communities in challenging circumstances. Whether it be women journalists in Libya, anti-corruption investigators in Ukraine and Nigeria, or rights reporters under non-democratic governments in Asia, local media inform and debate, alert and expose, mobilize and reconcile.

IWPR works to empower those on the front lines of independent journalism every day. In three dozen countries on five continents, in the most difficult environments imaginable, IWPR trains, mentors, and provides platforms for local reporters, citizen journalists and human rights activists.

Anthony Borden
IWPR Executive Director

 
GLOBAL VOICES

Highlighting the real-life stories and challenges of our trainees.

Hazza al Hazza, 40, lives in Idlib.

Anthony Borden
Hazza al Hazza
IWPR Syria trainee
Imagine how difficult it is to ask someone who is being bombed to write objectively about the source of the shelling.

A few months after the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, my friends in Idlib established a magazine called Al-Mantara to mobilise people in support of the revolution. I began contributing, but I didn’t write objectively. I thought that the aim was to show that the revolution was fair, that Bashar Assad was a criminal and that most of the Syrian people opposed him. I’d never heard of journalistic ethics, and didn’t try to avoid expressions of hatred and incitement to Assad loyalists.

Everything changed after I began collaborating with IWPR in 2013. At a training IWPR organised for my colleagues, I met Zaina Erhaim. She showed us how to write professional news reports, investigations and news stories.

With Zaina I began to learn objectivity. I learned that journalists should not introduce their own opinions into the news, and realized that the news was not a battlefield.

I then began writing for IWPR's Syrian Stories website, and applying these theoretical ideas with the help of IWPR editor Daoud Ibrahim. I introduced accuracy and objectivity, integrity and impartiality into my work, and completely rid my work of violent rhetoric and phrases inciting hatred of certain people or groups because of race or religion. I began to feel like a mature journalist.

My contemporaries read my reports but most of them were uncomfortable with them. Some said I was equating victim and oppressor, and believed that the site was against the revolution. I spent hours and hours convincing them of the importance of objectivity, press freedom and the professionalism of the site; and often succeeded.

After about a year writing for Damascus Bureau and working for the local radio station, its director, my friend Raed Al-Fares [killed in November 2018] asked me to train reporters and editors on the skills I had gained from working with IWPR.

There, too, correspondents and editors were full of expressions of hatred, violence and sectarian incitement, believing that this would serve the revolutionary movement in Syria. As soon as I started talking about media ethics, some shouted at me, "So we aren’t revolutionaries, but facilitators of Bashar Assad's crime?"

The discussions lasted for hours until again, most were convinced, and then they asked me for reference material. I gave them five IWPR training manuals about ethical and professional standards in journalism, news writing, news stories and so forth. Many of them ended up writing for IWPR, too.

I went on to train other local media outlets such as Mazaya magazine, which is concerned with women's issues, Ma'an magazine, and the Brushes website. The same skills were passed on to each of the trainees.

I now believe in the ethics of journalism and the role of the press in transmitting truth, defending human rights, spreading justice, democratic values and a culture of tolerance and acceptance. Conflict-sensitive journalism is not a theoretical concept that can’t be achieved. It is the reality of our work at IWPR.

 
Kunle Adebajo, 22 years old, lives in Abuja.

Kunle Adebajo
Kunle Adebajo
IWPR Nigeria trainee

Press freedom isn’t merely the right of journalists to write freely and without fear, it’s the right of all people to have access to information.

Being a journalist in Nigeria comes with peculiar challenges. Not only do you get constant threats from the people on whom you report, even the public - in whose best interests you write - also sometimes unfairly accuse you of bias.

The value system in the country is so out of shape that people who don’t like your work prefer to bribe, threaten, or even deploy state agents against you. I experienced this myself as a student journalist, when the University of Ibadan suspended me for an entire academic year for a piece I wrote in April 2016 criticising its failure to properly renovate student halls of residence. They claimed I had brought the image of the school into disrepute.

It’s my view that such intolerance for truth and dissent cannot be part of any democracy that aspires towards social and economic excellence. Journalists are not enemies of the state and journalism is not a crime.

So it’s been an exciting journey to be part of IWPR’s Human Rights Accountability and Justice Project, in conjunction with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), where I work as a reporter and fact-checker. I’ve had multiple learning opportunities; the topics the project addresses, and more importantly the collaborative approach, are extremely crucial.

I’m keenly interested in how educational reforms and political accountability can be achieved through in-depth journalism and other forms of writing, including satire and non-fiction.

As someone with a background in law, I fully grasp how important justice and the respect of fundamental human rights are for the sustenance and growth of the society. Working on this project, I was exposed to under-reported issues that can be unravelled using investigative journalism, and learned how to ensure personal safety while reporting these problems.

In terms of strengthening partnership and collaborating with CSOs, which was also a key objective of the project, I had the chance to work the Devatop Centre for Africa Development, another grantee under the project. The media-CSO collaboration encouraged by IWPR has seen us put hands on deck to investigate issues listeners have reported such as trafficking and child rape.

With my grant, I will be sniffing through the dark world of trafficking and shedding light on a West African route via which children are sent to Nigeria, where they are ultimately overworked and abused.

It’s an issue that has received little government attention. So I’ve been working with a number of civil society organisations, building on the lessons from the workshops, to push the authorities to do more to keep children safe.

Press freedom isn’t merely the right of journalists to write freely and without fear, it’s the right of all people to have access to information and to be shown truths that others prefer hidden.

I now believe in the ethics of journalism and the role of the press in transmitting truth, defending human rights, spreading justice, democratic values and a culture of tolerance and acceptance. Conflict-sensitive journalism is not a theoretical concept that can’t be achieved. It is the reality of our work at IWPR.

MORE FROM IWPR's GLOBAL VOICES

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IWPR Central Asia programme manager Abakhon Sultonnazarov assesses the state of press freedom in each country.
By Abakhon Sultonnazarov | 3 Mar 19
 

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Syria: La Tifti (Don't Judge) Video Series

Five part series on conflict sensitive and ethical journalism.
By IWPR | 12 Mar 19
Support journalists and activists working in the world's most closed and conflicted societies.

“Conflict-sensitive journalism is not a theoretical concept that can’t be achieved. It is the reality of our work at IWPR.”

Hazza al Hazza

IWPR Syria trainee
Support journalists and activists working in the world's most closed and conflicted societies.

“Journalism can provoke conflict and at the same time it can be an active part in transforming it.”

Gogita Aptsiauri

IWPR fellow and the winner of the 2014 EUMM Special Prize
FROM THE ARCHIVES

Highlights of our work on press freedom.

“Journalists are not enemies of the state and journalism is not a crime.”

Kunle Adebajo

IWPR Nigeria trainee
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