Reporters Without Borders has two primary spheres of activity: one is focused on Internet censorship and the new media, and the other on providing material, financial and psychological assistance to journalists assigned to dangerous areas. Its missions are to:
continuously monitor attacks on freedom of information worldwide;
denounce any such attacks in the media;
act in cooperation with governments to fight censorship and laws aimed at restricting freedom of information;
morally and financially assist persecuted journalists, as well as their families; and
Reporters Without Borders was founded in 1985 by Robert Ménard, Rémy Loury, Jacques Molénat and Émilien Jubineau, in Montpellier, France. Its head office is in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. RWB also maintains offices in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Madrid, Rome, Stockholm, Tunis, Vienna, and Washington, D.C. Their first office in Asia, located in Taipei, Taiwan, officially opened in July 2017. Taiwan has been rated the top Asian nation in RSF’s Press Freedom Index for five consecutive years, since 2013, and ranked 45th in 2017.
At first, the association worked to promote alternative journalism, but there were disagreements between the founders. Finally, only Ménard remained and he changed the organization's direction towards promoting freedom of the press. Reporters Without Borders states that it draws its inspiration from Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which everyone has "the right to freedom of opinion and expression" and also the right to "seek, receive and impart" information and ideas "regardless of frontiers".
Ménard was RWB's first Secretary General. Jean-François Julliard succeeded Ménard in 2008. Christophe Deloire succeeded Julliard in July 2012 when he became Director General.
Reporters Without Borders' primary means of direct action are appeals to government authorities through letters or petitions, as well as frequent press releases. Through its world-wide network of roughly 150 correspondents, RWB gathers information and conducts investigations of press freedom violations by region (Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, and the Americas) or topic. If necessary, it will send a team of its own to assess working conditions for journalists in a specific country. It releases annual reports on countries as well as the Press Freedom Index. It has launched advertising campaigns with the pro bono assistance of advertising firms to raise public awareness of threats to freedom of information and freedom of the press, to undermine the image of countries that it considers enemies of freedom of expression, and to discourage political support by the international community for governments that attack rather than protect freedom of information.
RWB also provides assistance for journalists and media who are either in danger or are having difficulty subsisting. They provide money to assist exiled or imprisoned journalists and their families and the unsupported families of journalists who have been killed; to enable journalists to leave their home countries if they are in danger there; to repair the effects of vandalism on media outlets; to cover the legal fees of journalists who have been prosecuted for their writings or the medical bills of those who have been physically attacked; and upon occasion, to provide bullet-proof vests for use by journalists.
Reporters Without Borders issues press releases, fact finding reports, and periodical publications. It publishes periodic mission reports on developments in individual countries or regions or on a specific topic. Each December it publishes an annual overview of events related to freedom of information and the safety of journalists. It maintains a web site (www.rsf.org) accessible in six languages (French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Persian).
RWB compiles and publishes an annual ranking of countries based upon the organization's assessment of their press freedom records. Small countries, such as Andorra, are excluded from this report.
The report is based on a questionnaire sent to partner organizations of Reporters Without Borders (14 freedom of expression groups in five continents) and its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
The survey asks questions about direct attacks on journalists and the media as well as other indirect sources of pressure against the free press. RWB is careful to note that the index only deals with press freedom, and does not measure the quality of journalism. Due to the nature of the survey's methodology based on individual perceptions, there are often wide contrasts in a country's ranking from year to year.
Predators of Press Freedom
Starting in 2001 Reporters Without Borders has published its annual Predators of Press Freedom list which highlights what it feels are the worst violators of press freedom.
In March 2018, RWB included 33 leaders or groups on its list of Predators of Freedom of Information:
Enemies of the Internet and Countries under surveillance lists
In conjunction with its World Day Against Cyber Censorship, RWB updates its Enemies of the Internet and Countries under surveillance lists.
In 2006, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press, started publishing a list of "Enemies of the Internet". The organization classifies a country as an enemy of the internet because "all of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users." In 2007 a second list of countries "Under Surveillance" (originally "Under Watch") was added.
When the "Enemies of the Internet" list was introduced in 2006, it listed 13 countries. From 2006 to 2012 the number of countries listed fell to 10 and then rose to 12. The list was not updated in 2013. In 2014 the list grew to 19 with an increased emphasis on surveillance in addition to censorship. The list has not been updated since 2014.
When the "Countries under surveillance" list was introduced in 2008, it listed 10 countries. Between 2008 and 2012 the number of countries listed grew to 16 and then fell to 11. The list was last updated in 2012.
Special report on Internet Surveillance
On 12 March 2013 Reporters Without Borders published a "Special report on Internet Surveillance". The report includes two new lists:
a list of "State Enemies of the Internet", countries whose governments are involved in active, intrusive surveillance of news providers, resulting in grave violations of freedom of information and human rights; and
a list of "Corporate Enemies of the Internet", companies that sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information.
In 2016, Reporters Without Borders published the Media: when oligarchs go shopping report which raises concern about media concentration around the world. The document identifies a "global phenomenon" – "the takeover of entire media groups...or landscapes...by extremely wealthy individuals whose interest in journalism is secondary to the defense of their personal interests." According to the report, oligarchs "kill freedom of information" by censoring anything that threatens their interest, use their media outlets to "beat up opponents", and corrupt state authorities. Reporters Without Borders raise concern about media concentration in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, etc. The report features a section on Bulgarian media tycoon Delyan Peevski who allegedly uses his media as "baseball bats" and publishes "insulting and denigrating articles against detractors".
Three times a year starting in 1992 RWB publishes a photography book in its series "100 Photos for Press Freedom" to both raise awareness and raise funds to support RWB's operations. In 2010 roughly 45% of RWB's income came from sales of these and other related items (t-shirts, cards, ...). The books are distributed free by the Nouvelles Messageries de la Presse Parisienne (NMPP). The books are sold by the French leisure chains and supermarkets Fnac, Carrefour, Casino, Monoprix and Cora, the websites alapage.com, fnac.com, and amazon.fr, as well as A2Presse and over 300 bookshops throughout France.
In 2013 100 Photos for Press Freedom was, for the first time, published as a digital addition available through the Apple iTunes Store.
Reporters Without Borders holds several events through the year to promote press and Internet freedom.
World Press Freedom Index (January)
Released each January the annually published World Press Freedom Index measures the degree of freedom enjoyed by the media in over 170 countries.
World Day Against Cyber Censorship (12 March)
Reporters Without Borders launched the first International Online Free Expression Day on 12 March 2008. Now named World Day Against Cyber Censorship, this annual event rallies support for an unrestricted Internet, accessible to all. On 12 March RWB awards its Netizen Prize and issues its report on freedom of information in cyberspace and an "Enemies of the Internet" list which identifies those countries that are censoring the Web and harassing Internet users.
RWB 2011 Netizen Prize
On World Day Against Cyber Censorship Reporters Without Borders awards an annual Netizen Prize that recognizes an Internet user, blogger, cyber-dissident, or group who has made a notable contribution to the defense of online freedom of expression. Starting in 2010 the prize has been awarded to:
2010: awarded to the Iranian women's rights activists of the Change for Equality website, www.we-change.org.
2011: awarded to the founders of a Tunisian blogging group named Nawaat.org.
2012: awarded to Syrian citizen journalists and activists of the Media center of the Local Coordination Committees.
2013: awarded to Vietnamese blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh.
2015: awarded to Zone9, an Ethiopian blogger collective created in 2012 that often draws attention to the government’s oppressive practices. One of its bloggers, Zelalem Kibret, had planned to attend the ceremony but his passport was confiscated as he was about to board his flight.
2016: awarded to Lu Yuyu and his partner, Li Tingyu, two Chinese citizen journalists who were arrested on 15 June and were held incommunicado for more than three weeks before being able speak to lawyers.
World Press Freedom Day (3 May)
Starting in 1992, Reporters Without Borders publishes its "Predators of Press Freedom" list of politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations who openly target journalists.
Reporters Without Borders–TV5 Monde Prize (December)
The Reporters Without Borders Prize, in which Le Monde became a partner in 2011, was created in 1992 and is given annually to a journalist (and since 2003 a news media and a cyber-dissident as well) that made, in RWB's words, "a significant contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom." Prize recipients:
RWB conducts advertising campaigns, jointly with communications professionals, to inform the public and to create bad publicity for governments that violate freedom of information. The campaigns are circulated to the media, international organisations, government agencies, and educational institutions using the Internet as well as traditional media channels.
Sochi 2014 campaign. A program supporting journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders in Russia, that ran from 1 March 2013 until the start of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games on 7 February 2014.
Voiceless Eyes campaign. Using the catchphrase "How can you see the truth when it cannot be told?", an interactive site demonstrates the need for a free press as one element of a larger campaign launched in December 2012. The web site uses webcam-activated technology to encourage users to cover and uncover their mouths to become aware of the harsh realities that can go unseen when restrictions are placed on free speech. An alternative version of the site uses the space bar. The site was selected as Site of the Day on 18 January 2013 by the Favourite Website Awards (FWA) of Cambridge, England. Voiceless Eyes was developed for RWB at Les 84 Paris by creative directors Olivier Bienaime and Herve Bienaime, head of creative technology Jean-Vincent Roger, strategic planner Nicolas Camillini and art director Antoine Arnoux using images from AFP photographers Tony Karumba, Aris Messinis, Jay Directo, Mauricio Lima, Bulent Kilic, Christophe Simon, Dario Leon, Olivier Laban-Mattei, and Philippe Desmazes.
We Fight Censorship project. An RWB project launched on 27 November 2012 with support from the European Union's European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the Paris City Hall. The project's goal is to combat censorship and promote the flow of news and information by creating an easily duplicated web site that will be used to publish content (articles, photos, videos and sound files) that has been censored, banned, or has led to reprisals against its creator (murder, arrest, harassment, pressure and so on). The site will host content in its original language (including French, English, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Spanish) and in translation (above all in French and English).
Independent North Korean media campaign. An international advertising campaign launched on 17 January 2011 to support independent media in North Korea.
RWB handcuffs as Olympic rings protesting 2008 Olympics in China
Beijing 2008 campaign. Reporters Without Borders protested the possibility of China hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics since 2001. On 30 March 2008, the day the Olympic torch departed from Olympia, Greece, RWB president Robert Ménard unfurled behind Chinese representative Qi Liu a banner bearing a design resembling the logo of the Olympics, in which the Olympic rings were replaced with handcuffs. On 7 April 2008, the day the torch came to Paris, Ménard, with the help of two other activists, climbed to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral to hoist a banner with the same Olympic symbol. In one of RWB's most popular campaigns to date, T-shirts bearing the symbol became so popular that sales for them surpassed 1 million euros.
Philippines. On 23 August 2007, RWB condemned the continuing threats and violence against Philippine radio commentators who report on organized crime and corruption, following a death threat on RGMA Palawan station manager Lily Uy. On 27 December 2007, RWB appealed to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to forthwith arrest the killers of radio broadcaster Ferdinand Lintuan, 51, the fifth journalist killed in 2007 in the Philippines. As first president of the Davao Association of Sports Journalists he was murdered in Davao City on 24 December.
RWB organises symbolic actions in front of the embassies of countries that restrict freedom of information and at various summits and key international events. Photos and videos from these "blitz" interventions are distributed by the international media which helps raise public awareness and identify the enemies of press freedom.
September 2011: During Rwandan President Paul Kagamé's official visit, as he greets a Medef delegation in the Hotel Ritz, activists are gagged with a red scarf to protest against the silence surrounding press freedom violations in Rwanda.
May 2011: On World Press Freedom Day, some activists threw buckets of blue paint on the outer walls of the Syrian Embassy in Paris, on which they have written the slogan "It is ink that should flow, not blood."
The sign reads: Depuis 500 Jours, Hervé [Ghesquière] et Stéphane [Taponier] sont otages en Afghanistan (For 500 days, Hervé [Ghesquière] and Stéphane [Taponier] are hostages in Afghanistan)
December 2010: Images of Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, France 3 journalists held hostage in Afghanistan, are projected onto the Arc de Triomphe on the first anniversary of their abduction.
November 2010: While Chinese President Hu Jintao's official procession moves down the Champs-Élysées, several activists open umbrellas bearing the slogan "Free Liu Xiaobo."
May 2010: Famous French reporters pose for a photo during a rally in support of Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, France 3 journalists held hostage in Afghanistan.
October 2007: "Press Freedom Predators" exhibit on the Esplanade of Human Rights in Paris.
In addition, various private groups and organizations have supported RWB through in-kind donations of their services. The photography books are one example, as is the work of Saatchi & Saatchi which created various communication campaigns free (for instance, concerning censorship in Algeria).
Lucie Morillon, RWB's then-Washington representative, confirmed in an interview on 29 April 2005 that the organization had a contract with US State Department's Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, who signed it in his capacity as a trustee for the Center for a Free Cuba, to inform Europeans about the repression of journalists in Cuba.CounterPunch, a critic of RWB, cited Reich's involvement with the group as a source of controversy: when Reich headed the Reagan administration's Office of Public Diplomacy in the 1980s, the body partook in what its officials termed "White Propaganda" – covert dissemination of information to influence domestic opinion regarding US backing for military campaigns against left-wing governments in Latin America.
RWB has been highly critical of press freedom in Cuba, describing the Cuban government as "totalitarian", and engages in direct campaigning against it. RWB's campaign includes declarations on radio and television, full-page ads in Parisian dailies, posters, leafletting at airports, and an April 2003 occupation of the Cuban tourism office in Paris. A Paris court (tribunal de grande instance) ordered RWB to pay 6,000 Euros to the daughter and heir of Alberto Korda for non-compliance with a court order of 9 July 2003 banning it from using Korda's famous (and copyrighted) photograph of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in a beret, taken at the funeral of La Coubre victims. RWB said it was "relieved" it was not given a harsher sentence. The face had been superimposed by RWB with that of a May 1968 CRS anti-riot police agent, and the postcard handed out at Orly Airport in Paris to tourists boarding on flights for Cuba. On 24 April 2003, RWB organized a demonstration outside the Cuban embassy in Paris
RWB in turn has been described as an "ultra-reactionary" organization by the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma. Tensions between Cuban authorities and RWB are high, particularly after the imprisonment in 2003 of 75 dissidents (27 journalists) by the Cuban Government, including Raúl Rivero and Óscar Elías Biscet. An article by John Cherian in the Indian magazine Frontline alleged that RWB "is reputed to have strong links with Western intelligence agencies" and "Cuba has accused Robert Meynard [sic] the head of the group, of having CIA links".
RWB has denied that its campaigning on Cuba are related to payments it has received from anti-Castro organisations. In 2004, it received $50,000 from the Miami-based exile group, the Center for a Free Cuba, which was personally signed by the US State Department's Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich. RWB has also received extensive funding from other institutions long critical of Fidel Castro's government, including the International Republican Institute.
Journalist Salim Lamrani has accused Reporters Without Borders with making unsupported and contradictory statements regarding Internet connectivity in Cuba.
In 2004, Reporters Without Borders released an annual report on Haiti, saying that a "climate of terror" existed in which attacks and threats persisted against journalists who were critical of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
An August 2006 article in CounterPunch accused RWB of ignoring similar attacks on journalists under the Latortue government in 2005 and 2006, including that of Pacifica Radio reporter Kevin Pina. Pina himself said:
It was clear early on that RWB and Robert Menard were not acting as objective guardians of freedom of the press in Haiti but rather as central actors in what can only be described as a disinformation campaign against Aristide's government ... They provide false information and skewed reports to build internal opposition to governments seen as uncontrollable and unpalatable to Washington while softening the ground for their eventual removal by providing justification under the pretext of attacks on the freedom of the press.
Le Monde diplomatique has criticized RWB's attitude towards Hugo Chávez's government in Venezuela, in particular during the 2002 coup attempt. RWB is said to have lent its support for Venezuelan pro-coup media outlets, and have had as a Caracas correspondent María Sol Pérez-Schael, an opposition adviser. In a right of reply, Robert Ménard declared that RWB had also condemned the Venezuela media's support of the coup attempt. RWB has also been criticized for supporting Globovision's version of events about its false reporting in relation to a 2009 earthquake, claiming Globovision was "being hounded by the government and the administration".
Overemphasis on "third-world dictatorships", bias in favor of Europe and the U.S.
In 2007 John Rosenthal argued that RWB showed a bias in favor of European countries. In the 2009 article about RWB and Venezuela cited above, Salim Lamrani stated that "RSF is not an organization that defends freedom of the press, but is an obscure entity with a political agenda precisely commissioned to discredit through all possible means the progressive governments in the world that find themselves on the United States' blacklist."
The Observatoire de l'Action Humanitaire (Centre for Humanitarian Action) criticized RWB's lukewarm criticism of US forces for their shelling, in 2003, of Palestine Hotel, in Baghdad, Iraq, which killed two Reuters journalists. The family of one of the deceased journalists, Spanish citizen José Couso, refused to allow the Spain chapter of RWB to attach its name to a legal action led by the family against the US army, voicing disgust at the fact that RWB interviewed US forces responsible for the shelling, but not the surviving journalists, and that RWB showed acquiescence to US army by thanking them for their "precious help".
According to the Observatoire, ever since Robert Ménard was replaced by Jean-François Julliard in September 2008, RWB has been concerned with violations of press freedom not only in "third-world dictatorships" but also in developed countries like France. Through widening its geographical scope, RWB aims at countering accusations of overly focusing on left-wing regimes unfriendly to the US. For example, RWB condemned the 35 year sentence received by American soldier Chelsea Manning, calling it "disproportionate" and arguing that it reveals how "vulnerable" whistleblowers are.
UNESCO support for International Online Free Expression Day
UNESCO, who initially had granted patronage to the first International Online Free Expression Day to be held on 12 March 2008, withdrew its patronage on the day of the event giving as reasons that RWB "published material concerning a number of UNESCO's Member States, which UNESCO had not been informed of and could not endorse" and that "UNESCO's logo was placed in such a way as to indicate the Organization's support of the information presented." RWB responded in a press release that "UNESCO has withdrawn its support to the promotion of this campaign because several of the nations which are part of the list of Internet Enemies published by the nongovernmental organization have directly put pressure to achieve it."
^Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders) : List of NGOs Studied in France : NGO Directory(in French), Observatory of humanitarian action, 29 September 2010: "Depuis que Jean-François Julliard a remplacé Robert Ménard en septembre 2008, l'association [...] ne s'occupe plus seulement des violations des droits de la presse dans les dictatures du tiers-monde et couvre aussi des pays développés comme la France. Un pareil élargissement géographique permet notamment à l'association de réagir aux critiques qui l'accusaient de trop se focaliser sur les régimes de gauche hostiles aux Etats-Unis." ("Since Jean-François Julliard replaced Robert Ménard in September 2008, the association [...] is no longer concerned just with violations of media rights in third world dictatorships and now also covers developed countries like France. Such a geographic expansion notably allows the association to respond to critics who accused it of too much focus on leftist regimes hostile to the United States.")
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