DHAKA – A global panel of exiled journalists recently weighed in on their experiences reporting from abroad and the impact of their work back home.
According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists around the world imprisoned by governments cracking down on press freedom reached a new level in 2021.
The global panel, who spoke at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin in April, highlighted the experience of journalists who are being forced out of their country for their own safety.
Panelists included Olga Churakova from Russia, Carlos Fernando Chamorro from Nicaragua, Juan Luis Font from Guatemala and Danny Fenster, editor-at-large of Frontier Myanmar. Professor Kathleen McElroy of the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, moderated.
“Journalists who have gone to exile remain the last reserve of all our constitutional freedoms,” said Chamorro, who fled Nicaragua for a second time in June 2021. He is one of the voices who are critical of the government of Daniel Ortega.
“Social media ironically represents an extraordinary vehicle to overcome censorship,” Chamorro said.
Chamorro, who now works in exile from Costa Rica, mentioned security, digital innovations and financial sustainability among the major challenges of reporting as an exiled journalist.
One of the ways to help the work continue, Chamorro said, is to “promote collaborative journalism among the exiled Nicaraguan media.”
“In Guatemala, we live in corporate tyranny,” said Font, who left Guatemala in 2022 after a former communications minister brought a criminal lawsuit against him.
It took him a long time to accept that he had to leave his country forever, Font said.
Luis Font added, “Most of the audience understand that I was forced out of my country, and show solidarity.”
But online, the reactions have been mixed.
“Some call me a liar and tell me that I am running away from justice,” Font said. “I’d rather have people be aggressive towards me and tell me that I should be in jail because it shows the way of the blatant oppression.”
Font’s work became difficult after a former minister brought a criminal lawsuit against him, putting him at risk of an eight-year prison term. Currently, Font broadcasts his radio and news show “Con Criterio” from the U.S.
When Myanmar’s government cracked down on the press, Fenster thought Frontier Myanmar, was off the government radar because they published in English, but he was wrong.
In May 24, 2021, Fenster was arrested for his reporting.
“When I got out after 6 months, my entire team had gone dark,” said Fenster. He said Myanmar had become, according to Reporters Without Borders, the nation second only to China for jailing journalists.
Churakova recounted her experience of being labeled as a “foreign agent” in Russia which made it difficult for her to get work. This designation meant that she had to publish a lengthy disclaimer with her work and send financial reports to authorities, or incur fines and jail time.
As they spoke of the challenges of reporting in exile, the journalists shared how reporting from a different country is a tedious process. The process of reporting becomes more challenging as they require more fact-checking, and with limited resources it becomes more difficult to sustain the journalism.
“Our daily work has changed from bad to worst, worst to something impossible,” Chamorro said.
While many journalists are not able to continue reporting after being forced out of the country, Fenster said, “There are many ways to survive, but not many ways to survive and continue journalism. And that’s the issue.”
To continue with their work, Font said, “it’s more important to have international press interested.”
Usraat Fahmidah is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.