If you flip the World Press Freedom Index upside down, you get something different. It essentially becomes a rough list of where the media is under the most pressure. The indicator doesn’t necessarily translate into resources or funding for media organisations from countries that perform the worst on this ranking. But the index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) continues to be a popular indicator of changes in press freedom, and it makes headlines when the list is updated every year. 

Slipping down in ranking on this index can be attributed to many factors such as political climate, legal framework, economic situation and even perceived safety of journalists. But the list of consequences for a country dropping in the rankings is much less exhaustive. While some governments may just ignore it, others have taken the alternative route of questioning the validity of the index when their ranking drops. 

In 2011, Bill Ristow, a journalism trainer found a [sort of] correlation between where a country ranks on the World Press Freedom Index, and the presence of exiled media from those countries. Exiled media refers to newsrooms or journalists compelled to report on a country from abroad. Often due to a lack of protections against persecution for their work in the country.

Of the 18 countries with exiled media that Bill surveyed, he found that only 2 were in the top half of the press freedom ranking. The findings suggested that most exiled media organisations are focused on countries in the bottom half of the index.

So, we wanted to see if the observation was applicable in 2024 — more than 10 years after Bill did his analysis. While an exhaustive list of exiled media companies is hard to find online, we did find a list that covered 121 such organisations from 38 countries. When we plotted it against the RSF rankings from 2023, we found that all but one of the countries where exiled media comes from are countries in the bottom half of the index.

To better understand the hopes and challenges exiled media faces, our friend and colleague Rohit Upadhyay interviewed journalists from two exiled media organisations at Splice Beta 2023: the Democratic Voice Of Burma (DVB) and Zamaneh Media,

For Ole Chavannes, media developer at DVB, working from exile means the ability to strive for more accuracy. DVB has covered stories about Myanmar from exile, with support from undercover journalists on the ground, for decades.

“Because we are in exile, we have zero censorship,” Ole told Rohit. “We can really tell whatever we want and we can keep people informed.”

Watch the full interview here:

And though there are benefits to being able to operate away from government pressure and restrictions, there are also added challenges. Because exiled media doesn't always have the same funding options as traditional media.  

“Often our audiences are also in a situation where they can’t support us very directly,” said Sudeshna Chanda of Zamaneh Media, an organisation that covers stories about Iran and the surrounding region from its base in the Netherlands.  “So we can’t really rely as much on reader revenue, which then ends up with us depending a lot on donor funding and grants.”  

Watch the full interview here:

Both DVB and Zamaneh Media are part of the Network of Exiled Media Organisations (NEMO). The network aims to support other organisations facing the similar challenges. You can check out their podcast here.

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