Internews Celebrates 25 Years of Fostering Independent Media and Access to Information

[news release]By Annette Makino(July 20, 2007) In the remote tribal region of Waziristan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, local reporter Sumera Rebab interviews villagers about the custom of “ghag,” in which a man can lay claim to a girl for life simply by going to her house and firing some shots in the air.Meanwhile, at a tiny community radio station in Chad, in central Africa, 25-year-old Houda Malloum presents a radio news program every day at noon for refugees who have fled neighboring Darfur, providing essential information such as how to stay safe while gathering firewood around the camps.And in Indonesia, veteran environmental reporter Harry Surjadi leads Indonesia’s first society for environmental journalists, ensuring that the public is informed on vital issues such as climate change and deforestation.Rebab, Malloum and Surjadi are a world away from each other, but these journalists have all been trained and supported by the US-based Internews Network. Internews, a non-profit organization based in California that fosters independent media and access to information worldwide, marks its 25th anniversary on July 26. A quick tour of its work around the world reveals an organization that thinks globally and acts globally, too.Sumera Rebab reports for an innovative radio program called Da Pulay Poray, whose Pashto name translates as “On the Borderline.” The program, produced by reporters from both Pakistan and Afghanistan working together, is part of Internews’ Pak-Afghan cross-border project, and airs weekly on independent radio stations on both sides of the border. Previously funded by a grant to Internews from Pact, a DC-based non-profit, the journalists have been working on a volunteer basis since the grant ended. As reporter Shoaib Zada said, “If I am not being paid, okay, that is a problem for me. But if, God forbid, this program stops, then the voice of the people will stop.”Houda Malloum was the first female member of a small group of journalists-in-training at Internews’ office in Abéché, Chad, which houses one of three community radio stations Internews has established to serve the information needs of refugees from Darfur as well as local Chadians. “People in Abéché criticize girls who work with men, but I close my ears so as not to hear it,” she says. “I am proud of my work, and my parents are proud of me too.”Harry Surjadi directs the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists, whose launch was sponsored by Internews at a conference at a national park in Indonesia on Earth Day 2006. The project is part of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, which aims to improve the quality and quantity of environmental reporting in the developing world. “Environmental problems are approaching a critical point of irreversible conditions,” Surjadi says. “This is the moment when Indonesian journalists have to inform people about the problems.”These are but a tiny sampling of Internews’ many projects in 70 countries over the last quarter century. A review of an Internews timeline since 1982 shows that the organization first made its mark by producing over a dozen politically and technologically ground-breaking “spacebridges,” televised dialogues between US and Soviet Union citizens during the Cold War. As John Marks writes in The Power of Media: A Handbook for Peacebuilders, “Internews . . . had a large vision: Namely, that media programmes could be used to reduce tensions between so-called enemy countries and that such programmes would lessen the threat of war.”The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the second major phase of Internews’ work. With the collapse of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, government-controlled media had to move aside to make room for the scrappy, independent TV and radio stations that began to emerge. Internews became the first international organization to provide sustained support for the development of these diverse new media outlets.In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton wrote in a letter, “Internews . . . has played such a vital role in helping to establish independent media throughout the former Soviet Union. I agree fully with the importance of free print and broadcast media to the emergence of stable democracies in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.”In 2000, the year that the ten millionth Internet domain name was registered, Internews recognized the power of digital convergence and expanded its mission from supporting independent media to fostering access to information, both through traditional media and new media such as the Internet and cell phone technology. Its Global Internet Policy Initiative has since worked for a user-controlled and affordable Internet in 20 countries.Along the way, Internews built a network of 32 radio stations in Afghanistan, all locally owned and operated; developed programs mentoring journalists in Africa, Southeast Asia and India in how to report on HIV/AIDS accurately and effectively; trained a generation of Middle Eastern reporters in fact-based, balanced reporting; and catalyzed the creation of the Global Forum for Media Development, which unites hundreds of media support NGOs, journalists, broadcasters and activists from 97 countries.Support for independent news media is not welcomed by all. In 2005, an increasingly repressive government in Uzbekistan ordered Internews out of the country, along with the BBC, the Open Society Institute, Freedom House and other democracy and media groups. And in April of this year, Russian police raided the Moscow office of Internews’ sister organization, Educated Media Foundation, forcing it to close down.In an essay in the New York Review of Books, Jamey Gambrell writes, “One of the most recent victims of the Putin bureaucracy has been an NGO called the Educated Media Foundation (EMF), formerly known as Internews Russia . . . The only ‘ideological’ aspect of their work has been to explain and encourage internationally recognized ethical standards for fair reporting.”Over the last 25 years, Internews has supported the creation of the first independent television networks in the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union; trained over 60,000 journalists and media professionals worldwide; helped develop thousands of locally managed independent media outlets that now have a potential audience of nearly a billion people; launched the multicultural satellite TV channel Link TV, which now reaches one in four US homes; and enabled local media to provide essential information during humanitarian disasters such as the Asian tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake.With grant funding from a range of foundations such as the Knight and MacArthur Foundations, government agencies such as the US Agency for International Development, and multilateral organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Internews Network projects a budget of $28 million this year.The organization has come a long way since its birth on July 26, 1982, when Evelyn Messinger, who founded the organization along with Kim Spencer and David Hoffman, wrote in her date book, “Order Internews letterhead.”Internews Network formally celebrated its 25th anniversary at a gala event in Washington, DC on May 3 of this year, World Press Freedom Day.David Hoffman, President of Internews Network, says, “While our methods have evolved over the last quarter-century, our goal remains constant: to use the power of communications technologies to improve understanding and empower people around the world.”Annette Makino is Internews’ Senior Vice-President for Communications and Corporate Affairs. She joined Internews Network in 1989.

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