3 May 2007 – The record levels of assassination, imprisonment and harassment of journalists underpin the importance of today, World Press Freedom Day.
Journalists exiled in the UK after facing persecution at home have launched their own antidote – the creation of a safe haven – ‘Press Freedom House’ – where new arrivals can recover, make contact with the families, pursue their claims of asylum and prepare for a new life until it is safe to return.
Modelled on La Maison des Journalistes, which performs a similar function in Paris, their plan has already won support from across the media spectrum. The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, the Guardian, the National Union of Journalists and the Society of Editors are among those who have welcomed the initiative.
The idea stems from recommendations in a 2006 report Exiled Journalists in Europe produced by MediaWise and the Exiled Journalists’ Network (EJN). The EJN shares offices with MediaWise at the University of the West of England. It grew out of our Refugees, Asylum seekers and the Media (RAM) Project which had identified over 150 exiled journalists living in the UK. EJN members are preparing country reports to inform lawyers and immigration officials about the circumstances that have forced so many brave journalists to seek refuge in the UK.
The Press Freedom House project has been spearheaded by Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw who studied at the Sorbonne after fleeing Sierra Leone where he ran the successful newspaper ExpoTimes.
“Most of my colleagues, including my younger brother and I, were imprisoned, tortured and forced to leave our homes and careers,” he says.
“While in Paris I saw the value of a safe house to help people readjust and re-establish contact with their families. In the UK the EJN is a useful forum for making contacts and finding work. Press Freedom House will combine the strengths of both approaches.”
The search is now on for a housing association, local authority or a generous benefactor to provide the premises, and funders to sponsor running costs. In Paris the Mayor supplied premises, and all the main media houses have sponsored a study bedroom.
Let us hope that World Press Freedom Day next year will be celebrated with news that the dream of Press Freedom House will have become a reality.
Visiting Professor in Media Ethics, Lincoln University
For more details, call the EJN on 0845 002 0167 or visit www.exiledjournalists.net
(Bulletin No 137)