Reporters Without Borders and Their Junk Index of “Press Freedom”

MEDIA, 25 Oct 2010

NameNotFound – Russia Today

Reporters Without Borders epitomizes what is wrong with the world in general and the world of journalism in particular.

It’s a perfect example of a good idea completely compromised by its execution – and the executioners.

Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF was founded by Robert Menard in 1985 in France and modeled, at least officially, on the famous Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Paris-based lobby proudly calls itself “an international press freedom organization” but during the 25 years of its existence it has become a symbol of anything but.

Today it is a scandal-surrounded outlet funded primarily by the US state budget through USAID and National Endowment for Democracy, accused of having links with (and sponsored by) gung-ho Bush neocons like Otto Reich.

Nonetheless, it maintains its innocence and swears to abide by its chartered principles
Let’s look at some of these principles and see how they work in practice.

“…defends journalists and media assistants imprisoned or persecuted for doing their job and exposes the mistreatment and torture of them in many countries” (from

RSF has a huge “Free Liu Xiaobo” banner running on its website. Strictly speaking, Liu is as much of a journalist as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin once were – writing for newspapers and other media of their time in order to get better publicity for their main cause – regime change.

Where’s the “Free Mumia Abu Jamal” banner on the same site? The guy’s been reporting from death row for several decades now – shouldn’t all democratic forces unite to demand his freedom? Well, the guy is languishing in a US jail – not a Chinese one.

In all fairness, Mumia gets a mention on RSF website – but we challenge you to find it.

“…fights against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom”(from

We dare anybody, RSF included, to argue that Iraq and Afghanistan were not among the top stories of the last decade.

We also dare anybody to argue that there are worse offenders of the freedom of press than NATO, and primarily the US military there.

Any Western media journalist who did Kabul or Baghdad will tell stories about being detained, searched, abused (verbally, in general – but it does not feel pleasant to be yelled at by a 250-pound soldier with his M4 pointing right at your chest), handcuffed, tapes confiscated, photos deleted – COMPLETELY ARBITRARILY.

If it was bad for a “white” journo, it was a hundred times worse for a local reporter. The whole world has seen WikiLeaks’ pictures of the US Apache killing two Reuters reporters in broad daylight -and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We admit, we do have personal grudges and unhappy memories. But we are not going to blame soldiers for being jumpy and unloading their frustrations on reporters. War is war and it sucks for all involved.

But the fact remains that the worst media censorship happens in war zones – and as to press freedom, it simply does not exist.

Oh, and the RSF’s reaction to the WikiLeaks exposure? “Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, regrets the incredible irresponsibility you showed…”

“…gives financial aid each year to 100 or so journalists or media outlets in difficulty (to pay for lawyers, medical care and equipment) as well to the families of imprisoned journalists” (

Do get yourself acquainted with Robert Menard’s venture in Qatar last year. We are not trying to defend the ruling dynasty of the island, but the guy likely knew what he was getting into when he agreed to resign his commission at RSF and become the head of Doha Center for Media Freedom.

Founded, no less, “with blessings from Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and under the patronage of the country’s first lady, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned”.

Not only did Menard get on his high horse from the get-go by inviting the editor of the Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, he also launched a very loud and public campaign for Qatari authorities to stop blocking access to websites that “insulted Islam and deities and promoted blasphemy, in the name of press freedom”

You know, if you were to come to the US, it would be a bad idea to start by peeing on the Lincoln Memorial’s walls – even if you think it is your sacred right. Especially if your trip was paid for by the government of the host country

However, Menard’s Qatari bosses tolerated the Frenchman for quite some time – until more claims about his performance surfaced.

The chief accusation against Menard stemmed from his claim that his Center had helped no fewer than 250 journalists from various countries who had sought refuge in Doha from persecution at home. Local journalists demanded to see proof of such expenses and were shown none. What’s more, allegedly neither Iraqi nor Palestinian reporters, some of the most endangered journalists in the world, had never heard of the Center, never mind getting assistance from it.

The length of this blog and pressing necessity to go to bed is preventing us from going into more scandals surrounding RSF – but those with a taste for such can entertain themselves further by Googling, for instance, “UNESCO RSF scandal” Or ” Menard’s views on torture”.

Finally, we have reached the question of why it all matters.

When RSF publishes it Annual Press Freedom index, many media outlets go apeshit over it.

Many – but by no means all.

The Huffington Post, an influential voice of American liberals, let it be known that some out there think that “Ménard was a career mercenary and that Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index was cooked to the taste of any given client, for the right price”.

We are going to say it more clearly: don’t read that junk. The people who put it together simply lack credibility.


NameNotFound is a collective op-ed page run by several veteran news reporters who, between themselves, have covered pretty much every big news story there’s been in the last twenty-something years – from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Obama election. It’s edgy and a bit condescending, just like you would expect from news veterans. But unlike many couch-potato theoreticians, NameNotFound have seen the world change with their own eyes – and are not shy about sharing their musings with you…

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