Shaping new realities: Fondation Hirondelle gives an equal voice to societies in democratic transition

03 May 2018

Today is World Press Freedom Day. Human rights are challenged and questioned all over the world. Sweden steps up its work to curb this trend –we are convinced that the only way forward is to promote, protect and continuously defend the right to freedom of opinion and expression. On this occasion, we meet Nicolas Boissez, head of communication and external relations from Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss non-profit organization founded in 1995 providing information to populations faced with crisis, empowering them in their daily lives and as citizens. The foundation defends independent and accurate journalism in conflict and post-conflict situations, in humanitarian crises and countries in democratic transition.

Hi Nicolas! Hirondelle’s programs promote dialogue and allow the populations to take action. Empowering women through information is one of the priorities of your successful program in Mali, Studio Tamani, launched in 2013 in partnership with Interpeace and funded by Sweden and the European Union. Tell us more about this daily radio program and what is the impact of this support? How has it supported a new generation of Malian journalists?

Nicolas Boissez: Since August 2013, Studio Tamani has been providing daily radio programming with news and information on Mali: 3 hours and 15 minutes of programmes each day, made of news bulletins in 5 languages, a talk-show called “Le Grand Dialogue” and features linked to the news or to specific themes, such as women’s and children rights. In total in 2017, Studio Tamani broadcasted 800 hours of programmes during the year, through a network of 70 partner radio stations across Mali. All content was produced by a team of 20 Malian journalists, aged mostly under 35 years old, a third of them being women. This team is based in Bamako, with a network of 35 correspondents throughout the country. More than 60 Malian media professionals have also been trained by Fondation Hirondelle experts and senior Malian members of the editorial team.

According to a recent independent audience survey by the IMMAR Institute, 32 % of the Malian population now listens to Studio Tamani. A study conducted in several regions of Mali in 2016 by researchers from the Institute of applied media studies of the Zurich University showed  that Studio Tamani listeners are better informed on the crisis, and that listening to Studio Tamani programs makes them favouring dialogue as solution to conflicts.

Sweden’s support to Studio Tamani is crucial: It allows for a total editorial independence of the newsroom and provides the journalists with the necessary means to work professionally. The support helps us to develop Studio Tamani in new creative ways with the introduction of new video productions focusing on Women’s rights that will complement the studio’s audio programming giving voice to remarkable women in Mali.  

According to you, what are the biggest challenges facing press freedom around the world today?

Nicolas Boissez: The challenges are many, and a bit different from one region to another, depending on each political, economical and social context. Globally we see of course that media and journalists all over the world face major economical challenges, that endanger press freedom - even in the richest countries. People, and governments, tend to forget that quality information has a cost and that producing information is a job that needs people trained for it, paid for it, and with the appropriate time and resources to find and verify news.

This economical weakening of the journalistic profession makes it even more difficult for journalists to produce quality, reliable news. If their production isn't good enough to interest the public, it's even more difficult for the population to make the difference between real journalistic news and propaganda or anybody’s opinion.  It is also the case in the very challenging crisis contexts where we intervene. Local medias in such fragile and volatile contexts face political pressures, and daily logistical and security challenges to operate. They are even more vulnerable due to their economic fragility. When a journalist is not paid, it’s very easy for dirty politicians, businessmen, or violent extremists to corrupt him/her to get the messages they want to be broadcasted, without verification or balanced views.

It all looks the same on social networks. It’s a vicious circle that really endangers press freedom today globally.

Your activities also include training journalists in conflict areas. What is needed to strengthen the safety of journalists, especially working under particularly difficult circumstances and covering sensitive social issues?

Nicolas Boissez:  The first protection for journalists in conflict areas is to follow strict professional and ethical rules. For example, if journalists are “embedded” with one side of the conflict, if they are seen are taking side or being agents of propaganda, they endanger themselves as they become clear targets for the other side. Then, again, journalists need to work in media with the necessary financial means to offer quality infrastructure, training and protections to their staff. And finally, in specific violent contexts, tailored and on-the-ground security trainings are useful to implement appropriate measures among newsrooms and give the basic know-how to the journalists on how to behave the more carefully in violent situations. Indeed, in most of our projects we have to implement such trainings for our staff, and we usually partner with specialized organizations for this.

Democracy thrives when a plurality of voices are heard.  We wish Fondation Hirondelle every success in giving a voice to societies in democratic transition!

Last updated 03 May 2018, 9.36 AM