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FLASHBACK: Reporters Without Democracy

Media Watchdog as Democracy Manipulator (Part 4 of 4)

ZNet
By Michael Barker

December 16, 2007

[The first two parts of this article firstly investigated Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ‘democratic’ funding ties, and then went on to look at the ‘democratic’ credentials of some of their current and former staff.  The third installment of this article extended this investigation and examined the ‘democratic’ ties of some of the earlier recipients of RSF’s annual Fondation de France Prize, and this concluding part of the article will now continue in this vein and examine the ‘democratic’ ties of some of RSF’s more recent prize winners. Finally, the article will conclude by offering some suggestions for how the issues raised within this article may be acted upon by progressive activists.]

Reporting on ETA

In 2000, Carmen Gurruchaga Basurto, a political reporter for El Mundo, a Madrid-based daily newspaper won the RSF award. Her biography notes that she “writes frequently about the Basque separatist group, ETA.” However, it goes on to note that because “Gurruchaga’s stories have so threatened the terrorist group… since 1984 it has waged a campaign against her, hoping to intimidate her into stopping reporting on their activities.” In 2001, Gurruchaga received awards from two ‘democratically’ connected organizations, Human Rights Watch (from whom she obtained a Hellman/Hammett Grant), and the International Women’s Media Foundation (from whom she was awarded their annual Courage Award).

Regime Change in Iran?

In 2001, Reza Alijani, the editor of Iran-e-Farda – an Iranian newspaper that was banned in 2000 – received RSF’s press freedom award. Although I cannot demonstrate that Alijani has any ‘democratic’ ties, one of his former Iran-e-Farda colleagues, Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari, “was arrested on August 5, 2000 in connection with his participation at an academic and cultural conference held at the Heinrich Boll Institute in Berlin on April 7-9 [2000] entitled ‘Iran after the elections,’ at which political and social reform in Iran were publicly debated”. This is significant because the German political foundations (Stiftungen) are according to Stefan Mair (2000) “without a doubt among the oldest, most experienced and biggest actors in international democracy assistance”. Indeed NED historian David Lowe writes that these Stiftungen provided an “important model for democracy assistance” which helped catalyse the creation of the US’s own democracy promoting organ, the NED.[1]

Armed with this knowledge it is perhaps not so astonishing that the Iranian government would choose to imprison many of the activists who participated in the aforementioned Heinrich Boll conference. Furthermore, it is also predicable that some of the other conference attendees would have ties to the NED and the democracy manipulators: these activists included Akbar Ganji (who in 2000 received an International Press Freedom Award from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, that is, the group that manages the ‘democratically’ linked IFEX network, and after spending six years in prison – after attending the conference – Ganji was awarded Rights and Democracy’s 2007 John Humphrey Freedom Award), Ali Afshari (who was a visiting fellow at the NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies from October 2006 to February 2007), and Mehrangiz Kar (who from 2000 to 2001 held a senior fellowship with the Toda Institute for Global Policy and Peace Research, from October 2001 to August 2002 was a NED Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, in late 2002 served as a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and between September 2005 and June 2006 was a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy).

A number of other Iranian journalists – who did not attend the Berlin conference – were also arrested in April 2000, and the two who can be linked to the ‘democracy’ community are Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (who in 2000 then received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award), [2] and Emadeddin Baqi (who in 2004 was awarded the Civil Courage Prize, and in 1999 co-wrote a series of articles with Akbar Ganji criticizing the government which “galvanized the public and, within one year of their publication, forced the closing by the government of nearly every reform newspaper in the country”).

Environmental ‘Democracy’ for Russia

The 2002 RSF Fondation de France Prize was awarded to Russian journalist Grigory Pasko, who at the time of receiving the award was serving a prison sentence for exposing the dumping of radioactive waste by the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan, “expos[ing] corruption inside the fleet” and pass[ing] on public information about both issues to Japanese journalists”. Pasko was eventually set free in 2003, and in 2004 he became the editor-in-chief of the Environmental Rights Center’s (otherwise known as Bellona) Environment and Rights Journal – which has been published since February 2002 and is supported by the NED.

Bringing Human Rights to Haiti, Zimbabwe, and Morocco

In 2003 RSF Fondation de France Prize was given to the following individuals and groups, exiled Haitian journalist, Michèle Montas, to the Zimbabwean newspaper, The Daily News, and to the Moroccan journalist, Ali Lmrabet.

In addition, to being a former director of Radio Haiti Inter, the first RSF winner, Michèle Montas, is also a director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights – a group that was initially known as the National Emergency Coalition for Haitian Refugees when it was created in 1982. Two of the better known (now deceased) ‘democracy promoting’ founders of the NCHR are Lane Kirkland (who is a former Rockefeller Foundation trustee, and from 1979 to 1995 served as the president of the AFL-CIO – which is a core NED grantee) and Bayard Rustin (who was a former chairman of the executive committee of Freedom House, and former president of the NED-funded A. Philip Randolph Institute). [3] Other notable former directors of NCHR include Michael H. Posner (who is the president of Human Rights First), Michele D. Pierre-Louis (who is the Executive Director of FOKAL which “is the Open Society Institute foundation in Haiti”), and Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. (who is a former director of the Rockefeller Foundation).

The current executive director of NCHR is Jocelyn McCalla, who has held this position since 1988 (except for a one year break in 2002) and presently serves on Human Right Watch’s ‘democratically’ connected Americas Advisory Board. Other current NCHR directors with ‘democratic’ ties include Mark Handelman (who is a director of the NED-funded International Campaign for Tibet), Max J. Blanchet (who is a director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti which although progressive is a chapter of USAID-funded Partners of the Americas), Muzaffar A. Chishti, (who is the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law), and Herold Dasque (who is the executive director of the progressive Haitian American United for Progress, but is also connected to Dwa Fanm – a group which has two directors who have previously worked with George Soros’ Open Society Institute).

The second recipient of the 2003 RSF Fondation de France Prize was the Zimbabwean newspaper, The Daily News. This paper was launched by Geoffrey Nyarota in 1999, and it “quickly became the largest selling and most influential newspaper” in Zimbabwe. Therefore, it is significant to note that Nyarota – who “now lives in exile in the United States from where he publishes thezimbabwetimes.com” –was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award in 2001. In addition, the following year he received the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom award, from 2004 to 2005 he served as a fellow at the US-based Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and he is presently a director of the World Press Freedom Committee. [4] (The Daily News closed operations in 2004 after “constant harassment by state monitors” and is now being published by the Amnesty International’s Irish Section.)

The third RSF prize for 2003 was awarded to the Moroccan journalist and editor of Demain magazine, Ali Lmrabet, while he was “serving a three-year jail sentence, in part for publishing cartoons critical of King Mohammed VI”. However, while Lmrabet was sentenced in May that year he was released from prison one month after he received the RSF award (which he obtained in December 2003). Here it is perhaps relevant to note that he is presently a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, although he does not appear to hold any leadership role. This is significant because this association is a member of a broader network known as the International Federation for Human Rights – a group whose work is supported by Rights and Democracy, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Ford Foundation, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.

Promoting ‘Democracy’ in Algeria, China, and Mexico

Three RSF awards were distributed in 2004. The first recipient of the RSF prize was Algerian journalist Hafnaoui Ghoul, who at the time was a correspondent for the daily paper El Youm and was head of the regional office of the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH). Ghoul’s affiliation to the latter group is noteworthy because LADDH received their first grant from the NED in 2002, and then received further NED grants in both 2004 and 2005.

The second person to receive a RSF award in 2004 was the “former Beijing University philosophy teacher Liu Xiaobo, who heads the Independent Writers’ Association”. At the time of receiving the award Xiaobo was also the chair of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), whose members include two members of the editorial board of the NED-funded magazine, Beijing Spring, Kuide Chen and Zheng Yi. It is also significant that Louisa Coan Greve (who is the senior program officer for Asia for the NED) congratulated Xiaobo on receiving his RSF prize, and noted that the award “also honors the ICPC itself, and NED is gratified and humbled to be a supporter of those efforts.” [5]

Finally, the third winner of the RSF’s 2004 award was the weekly newspaper Zeta – a Mexican paper which was cofounded by the 1998 RSF award nominiee J. Jesus Blancornelas. Blancornelas is currently Zeta’s editor in chief, and his previous nomination for the RSF prize is no accident, as throughout his career he has been showered with numerous journalism awards, the earliest of which appears to be the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award which he received in 1995. Zeta appears to have quite an affinity with the Committee to Protect Journalists, because in 2007, Zeta’s director, Navarro Bello, was also awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award.

A Helping Hand for Somali, Afghanistan, and China

In 2005, Omar Faruk Osman received the RSF award on behalf of National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). This is significant because in 2002 Osman was elected as the secretary-general of the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON), which under his guidance was transformed into NUSOJ. This group is linked to the NED in a number of ways. In 2005 they obtained a grant from the NED to train journalists and “nominate journalists as National Press Freedom Protectors to monitor free press abuses”, while in the same year the International Federation of Journalists received a separate grant from the NED to work with them to organize a journalism conference. More recently, in 2006, Osman “was chosen to be a member of the international jury of the RSF Press Freedom Award”.

Other winners of the RSF’s 2005 Fondation de France Press Freedom Award include the Afghanistan-based Tolo TV (which was launched in 2004 with starter funds provided by USAID, and is reported to be the “most popular station in Kabul” boasting of a “81 percent share of the market”), and New York Times contributor, Zhao Yan.

Zhao Yan is a journalist who worked for China Reform Magazine (from 2002 to March 2004), and has also written for the NED-funded Human Rights in China. Yan stopped working for the China Reform Magazine in March 2004 and “the magazine was subsequently shut down by the government in December 2004”. However, just before the magazine closed down Yan was arrested by the Chinese government for allegedly disclosing state secrets, and then kept in prison until September 2007.

Note that the China Reform Magazine is linked, albeit tenuously, to a NED-supported organization through Professor Tiejun Wen, who is based at the Renmin University of China and was formerly the editor-in-chief for China Reform Magazine. The NED link arises through Professor Wen’s employment as the chief-economist of the China Macroeconomics Network, where he is also a member of their expert group of “more than 130 renowned Chinese macroeconomists” known as The Macrochina Economists 100. It is significant that three other members of this elite group of macroeconomists currently work for the Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics – an organization that has received four grants from the NED (which were channelled via the Center for International Private Enterprise in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999): these three macroeconomists are the Unirule’s president and co-founder Mao Yushi, their director Sheng Hong, and the Institute’s director-general Zhang Shuguang. [6]

Democracy for Four: Burma, Cuba, Russian, the and Democratic Republic of Congo

In 2006 there were four RSF laureates, the Burmese journalist U Win Tin, the Cuban writer Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta (Russia), and the group Journaliste En Danger (Democratic Republic of Congo).

U Win Tin, a former member of the central executive committee of the National League for Democracy (where he acted as their secretary), and a close friend of former RSF awardee San San Nweh, received the 2006 RSF press freedom prize. He has been in prison since 1989 because of his affiliation to Burma’s main opposition party, and while San San Nweh was released from prison in 2001, he still languishes behind bars today. As mentioned previously, in 2001 the World Association of Newspapers awarded U Win Tin its annual press freedom prize.

Another recipient of RSF’s 2006 award was the Cuban cyber-dissident Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, who heads the small Cubanacán Press news agency. As before, RSF support of Cuban dissidents is hardly surprising given the financial support they receive from the NED-funded Center for a Free Cuba, thus it is also not so astonishing that the NED-funded CubaNet media project would publish Guillermo’s work.

The Russian biweekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta is now most famous for formerly being home to Anna Politkovskaya (the journalist who was murdered in October 2006), a journalist whose work was recently recognized by the NED who awarded her one of their 2007 Democracy Awards. [7] In addition, in September 2007 Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, was given the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award.

RSF’s “partner organization” Journaliste En Danger (JED), is a member of the IFEX network, was founded in 1997, and is headed by journalists Donat M’Baya Tshimanga and Tshivis Tshivuadi. In what might be considered a conflict of interest, Tshimanga – who is presently JED’s president – also serves on the RSF’s international jury for their Press Freedom Award (and has done so since at least 2002). Also in 2004, Tshivuadi, who is the secretary general of JED, attended an inter-regional workshop that was convened by the NED-linked Panos Institute. [8]

Ending Media Interference Now

It is very dangerous when press freedom organizations get themselves politically compromised by accepting payment from any government. It is really vital that all such organizations are truly independent.” UK National Union of Journalists

While this article had not demonstrated that RSF receives funding from any government, it has shown how RSF has received funding from the Congressionally funded NED, and it has illustrated how RSF’s work is highly integrated with that of the ‘democracy promoting’ community, much of which is linked to the activities of the NED. Whether RSF is being manipulated to serve as a useful tool of the ‘democracy promoters’, or whether it is itself guiding the media-related priorities of the global ‘democratic’ community is beside the point. What is certain is that RSF’s activities are intimately entwined with those of the NED. The revelations in this article alone therefore provide more than enough reasons for disbanding RSF immediately. However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future given the useful role that RSF currently provides for elite interests determined on promoting low-intensity neoliberal forms of democracy globally.

Undoubtedly future studies will furnish further details concerning RSF’s less than noble ‘democratic’ liaisons, but the question to ask is, will this be enough to close it down permanently, or to even delegitimize their work in the corporate media? Unfortunately, it is all too obvious that such information, without determined action (in the form of grassroots activism) to back it up, will probably not affect the conduct of RSF’s work one iota. This can explained to a large extent by the bipartisan nature (but nonetheless highly political and regressive work) of most ‘democracy promoting’ efforts, which acts to shield their work from critical enquiry. We only have to look to the work of the core NED grantee, the AFL-CIO, to see that ongoing critical reports filed over the past few decades [27] – that have comprehensively documented the AFL-CIO’s involvement in implementing the US’s antidemocratic foreign policies – have had little visible effect on their practices. Indeed, a number of unionists and other activists joined together in the Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee (www.workertoworker.net) have been continuing to campaign to get the AFL-CIO to break any ties it has with the NED. To date, they have been unsuccessful, even though getting the California AFL-CIO State Convention – one-sixth of the entire membership at the time – to unanimously repudiate the AFL-CIO foreign policy program in 2004. At the 2005 National AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, the AFL-CIO leadership first changed the California resolution to praising their Solidarity Center’s work, and then actively refused to allow anyone to speak on the convention floor in favour of the actual California resolution condemning AFL-CIO foreign policy.

On a more positive note, ideally, the results of this paper will help initiate further critical inquiries into the democracy manipulators colonization of journalism organizations. Yet it is surely an indictment of media scholars and journalists that similar studies have not been conducted years ago. That said, perhaps this judgement is overly harsh, as ignorance concerning antidemocratic funding seems to be a problem of progressive groups’ more generally. Indeed, progressive activists’ seem to have become so fixated on critiquing their ideological opponents that they have neglected to watch the right-ward slide of their would-be-allies. This tactical lapse appears to have left democratic media organizations open to the insidious cooptive assaults waged by those intent on promoting a polyarchal public sphere.

One way to counter the democracy manipulators cynical use of journalism against democracy is for progressive groups to thoroughly investigate the activities of each and every media group working to strengthen the public sphere. This would be a simple project if journalists and media scholars across the world critically examined the work of their local journalism organizations. In this way, a global database might be built up which would enable progressive scholars, activists, and journalists, to lift the rhetorical veil that has so far shielded many media groups’ from criticism. Completion of such studies will then enable keen media reformers to support (and where necessary create new) truly participatory journalism organizations that can effectively challenge the corporate medias’ global hegemony.

 

[Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au. All four parts of this article and some of his other recent articles can be found right here.[

 

Endnotes

[1] By the 1990s Germany’s Stiftungen or party foundations, “had resident representatives in more than 100 countries and field offices in some of them for well over 30 years. Between 1962 and 1997 they handled in total over DM4.5 billion reaching around DM290 million annually by the 1990s. Although in the period before 1990 it is debatable how much can be called democracy support rather than activities primarily intended to meet other purposes  In Pinto-Duschinsky’s words they were ‘powerful instruments not only for promoting democracy, but also for furthering German interests and contacts’.” Stefan Mair, Germany’s Stiftungen and Democracy Assistance: Comparative Advantages, New Challenges, In: Peter J. Burnell (ed.) Democracy assistance: International Co-operation for Democratization (London, Frank Cass: 2000), pp.128-149.

Heinrich Boll representative, Sascha Müller-Kraenner, was also a signatory to a recent letter (dated November 11, 2004) which was sent by the NED to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez to urge him “to reconsider the prosecution of the leadership of Sumate, as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad”. Sumate is the Venezuelan group that received assistance from the NED to facilitate the unsuccessful ouster of Chavez in 2002.

[2] Another recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award in 2000 was Steven Gan who at the time was the co-founder and editor of the online publication Malaysiakini, a publication which was launched in 1999 by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (a group that since their founding in 1999 has received annual grants from the NED to support their work in Malaysia).

[3] Also see Tom Barry, ‘The New Crusade of the Democratic Globalists’, International Relations Center, August 3, 2005; Other NCHR leaders in the early 1980s included Father Antoine Adrien, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Ira Gollobin, Vernon Jordan, Rev. Benjamin Hooks, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, and Bishop Paul Moore.

[4] In 2006 Geoffrey Nyaro published the book Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Newsman, and in 2006 he also attended the 7th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees – a conference that was also attended by the NED’s president Carl Gershman.

[5] http://www.cicus.org/news/newsdetail.php?id=3514 Accessed December 2006.

[6] The Unirule Institute president, Mao Yushi, while based at the Unirule Institute between 1996 and 1997 was also an executive officer for the NED-linked Chinese Economists Society, and “[i]n November 2004, Mao was elected by the International Business Review as one of the ten most influential economists in China”. Other well-known ‘democratic’ funders of Unirule’s work include the major liberal philanthropist the Ford Foundation, the Institute for International Economics (whose most ‘democratic’ directors are David Rockefeller and George Soros), “many foreign embassies in Beijing”, and “international public institutions, such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank”. For further analysis of the Unirule Institute’s ‘democratic’ ties see, Michael Barker, Promoting a Low Intensity Public Sphere: American Led Efforts to Promote a ‘Democratic Media’ Environment in China. A paper to presented at the China Media Centre Conference (Brisbane, Australia: Creative Industries Precinct, 5-6 July 2007).

[7] Novaya Gazeta: “The privately-owned newspaper in which the staff holds 51% of the shares, saw two political figures take over 49% of its capital in June 2006. They were the former Soviet president and originator of glasnost (openness), Mikhail Gorbachev, and Alexander Lebedev, wealthy businessman and member of the Duma.”

[8] The Panos Institute received one grant from the NED in 1997, while more recently in September 2007, the NED’s “Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and Panos London launched the Panos Institute’s report entitled At the Heart of Change: The Role of Communication in Sustainable Development.”