As the 80-member IFEX network prepares for its 17-20 June 2013 General Meeting and Strategy Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the desire we all have to increase the impact of our work is at the forefront of our thoughts. But what do we mean by impact? How do we know when we've achieved the impact we aimed for?
Sometimes, the impact of our actions is easy to spot. Since its founding in 1992, the IFEX network has launched a multitude of successful joint actions, including petitions and letter-writing campaigns demanding that governments respect the rights of journalists and others who have been imprisoned for speaking out. When these actions bear fruit, as on 20 March 2013 when Cambodian radio broadcaster Mam Sonando was released from jail, IFEX and its member organisation, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), were able to share the news with the world (see photo gallery here).
But IFEX and its members often have to take the long view. The process can be arduous, involving many challenges and setbacks – for example when judicial process or government inaction impedes progress. On the other hand, the size of the obstacles we have to overcome can be matched by the breadth of impact, as when our actions result in a nation overhauling repressive legislation, including defamation and libel laws that can cast a significant chill over free expression throughout society.
IFEX members often talk about the impact of our work. Below, we share a few members' reflections, and how they know if the desired impact has been achieved.
- Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah, Vice-President, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
- Ghias Aljundi, Middle East Researcher and Development Officer, PEN International
- Corina Cepoi, Director, Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
- Wesley Gibbings, President, Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), Trinidad and Tobego
- Şanar Yurdatapan, Antenna, Turkey
- Tshivis Tshivuadi, Secretary-General, Journaliste en danger (JED), DRC
When have you known that your work has had an impact?
When legislation was passed
Wesley Gibbings: Our biggest success was an announcement by the government of Grenada that it had taken the step of eliminating criminal defamation. As a result, we expect a domino effect to take place and I think that in a very short space of time we are going to have huge successes in some of the other Caribbean countries.
When prisoners were released
Ghias Aljundi: While working on two death penalty cases in Yemen, after a concrete campaign, the sentences of the accused were stayed and eventually they both were released. It has a great sense of satisfaction that you have achieved something positive.
When our work was recognised
Tshivis Tshivuadi: JED serves as a reference on the human rights situation in the DRC for international organisations and consular offices. In November 2005, JED was the recipient of the Hermann Kesten award granted by PEN Germany, whose president praised the group as “the largest press freedom and freedom of expression organisation in Africa.”
When a radio station got back on the air
Tshivis Tshivuadi: JED launched a 45-day campaign in 2010 to lift a 15-month suspension on Radio France International's (RFI) FM programmes, during which it collected signatures on a petition addressed to the president. Despite a counter smear campaign launched by the state media in which the information minister accused JED directors of being “in the service of foreign interests”, more than 10,000 signatures—including those of the leaders of the country's main political parties and civil society organisations—were collected and sent to President Joseph Kabila. JED continued its campaign until the station was allowed to resume broadcasting.
When a publisher was acquitted
Şanar Yurdatapan: In February 2002, Fatih Tas, the publisher of Noam Chomsky's book, American Interventionism, was tried by the State Security Court for producing propaganda against the state. According to Turkish law, if the author of the offending work is not accessible under national jurisdiction, then the publisher, translator, even the press house owner can be held responsible and sentenced. We invited Mr. Chomsky to Istanbul, and he was able attend the trial at the State Security Court in Istanbul. Following Mr. Chomsky's appearance at court, the hearing lasted only 15 minutes and the publisher was acquitted.
What’s one way being part of the IFEX network has had an impact on you or your work?
Advocacy on my behalf
Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah: After I was arrested, IFEX issued many advocacy statements on my behalf. Because of that, I was released and acquitted after one month. There is also the case of [BHRC President] Nabeel Rajab – the government had planned to sentence him for many years but because of the international pressure he was sentenced for three years, and more international pressure could make it less than two years.
Connecting us with others and building our capacity
Wesley Gibbings: I think that before we joined IFEX just a few years ago, we were virtually in the wilderness internationally. Through IFEX, we were able to benefit from an institutional strengthening exercise that helped us to re-examine the organisation, to make an assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, and we have been able to benefit considerably through the existence of the IFEX network.
Increasing our credibility and collaboration
Tshivis T. Tshivuadi: Since joining the IFEX network in 1999, JED has received an international visibility that has bolstered its reputation and credibility as a press freedom organisation. Belonging to the largest international network of press freedom defenders has also allowed JED to work closely with such prestigious groups as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Article 19, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and PEN International, as well as UN agencies focused on human rights.
Creating a safety net
Corina Cepoi: [IFEX is] a safety net because if something happens, everyone stands up for you. This is important in an environment particularly when a country is in transition, when you will never know what will happen tomorrow. That support and immediate reaction from IFEX is really important to us.
These are just a few examples. For a more in depth look at two more impactful campaigns by IFEX members and the contexts in which they have taken place, see our interactive timeline illustrating how a three-and-a-half-year campaign launched by Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science reformed the UK's libel laws, or read about the involvement of the African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) coalition in the implementation of Access to Information (ATI) laws 11 African countries since 2000. Through collaboration, IFEX members are giving voice to the collective message of free expression, and the result is global impact.