Navigating the Complexities of Exile Journalism: Lessons from Syrian Media for Hong Kong Journalists
As Hong Kong journalists face exile under the tightening grip of Chinese authority, Flow HK magazine seeks to explore the challenges and survival tactics that emerge for these reporters. Flow HK has conducted an interview with Yazan Badran, a media scholar with expertise in new journalism and political activism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Dr. Badran is currently a visiting professor at the Department of Communication Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. Drawing on Dr. Badran’s knowledge of Syrian journalists, this conversation aims to shed light on how exile media can continue to report local news from their homeland and the relationships between these diaspora journalists and various stakeholders, such as local and diaspora readers.
For Chinese Version: 【學者觀點】專訪媒體及傳播學者 Yazan Badran 流亡新聞的複雜性：敘利亞媒體對香港記者的啟示
This conversation with Dr. Badran explored the tactics used by exile journalists to maintain connections to their homeland and ensure the accuracy of their reporting. The discussion delved into the use of anonymous reporters, encrypted communications, and networks of media outlets to share resources and build trust. The institutional level of networking of media outlets in exile was also discussed.
The conversation also covered the difficulty of managing possible tensions between editors in exile and local correspondents in media coverage. Dr. Badran suggested that accepting a certain level of distrust is necessary, and that communication and triangulation between editors in exile and local correspondents can help create a more nuanced understanding of the local social situation back in the home country. He also emphasized the importance of emotional labor in this process.
Financial sustainability is a major concern for exile media, as they are far from their primary readership and often operate in the midst of economic dislocation. Dr. Badran examined three models of media sustainability, including organizations like Enab Baladi that rely on multiple source of grants, organizations like SyriaUntold adjust their scale with the amount of grant they obtain, and organizations that rely on a single funder.
The conversation also touched on the difficulty of managing the foreign policy objectives of host countries and funders. This often leads to complicated situations in which exile media organizations find themselves allied with people with whom they would otherwise have nothing in common. For Syrian media, this challenge is exemplified by the need to overlook the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey while remaining dependent on the country for funding.
Furthermore, Dr. Badran delved into the complexities of engaging with larger cultural spheres and the importance of translation and communication between different languages. Dr. Badran also explored the need for bilingual publishing for Syrian and Hong Kong media to reach a wider audience and serve different constituencies, especially for diaspora media to avoid insularity and echo chambers.
Through this wide-ranging discussion, Dr. Badran provided lessons for Hong Kong journalists in exile who continue to report on their homeland under the shadow of Chinese authority.
Q: Flow Hong Kong Magazine YB: Dr. Yazan Badran
The conversation has been edited and reorganized for easier reading.
Information Gathering and Collaborative Networks: Essential Tactics for Media in Exile
Q: How do overseas journalists maintain an active connection to their hometown in order to gather information and verify the accuracy of their news material gathered?
YB: In the Syrian case, you have a fragmented control over the territory, so there isn’t a monolithic control. In certain ways, media in exile still had access to anonymous reporters inside the country. The government-controlled areas are the most dangerous to work in, so they have the highest level of security. At the level of reporters, people who collect data and write about what they witness, they would use high encryption in their communications. They would also try to access nearby countries, such as Lebanon, to communicate with the newspaper, and of course, write anonymously.
Besides, on another level, there are some journalists who write features that are not entirely political, and they might see themselves in lesser danger. There is a network within the country where these journalists keep information flowing. For example, in areas controlled by the opposition or the Kurds, you have similar dynamics – not as dangerous to operate as a journalist, but there are restrictions on what you can do and say. There are limits to what you can report on, and when you need to move beyond these limits, you operate within similar parameters as you would under the Syrian regime. To sum up, material could be accessed in certain ways by reporters inside the country, though it’s very difficult, costly, and administratively complicated.
For these organizations, they also operate as a kind of network newsroom. You might have a physical newsroom somewhere, but you operate as a distributed newsroom, which gives you access to sources that are not directly linked to you. You have two main ways of accessing information from inside the country. Firstly, each organization has its own reporters or freelancers who work mainly for them. Secondly, there is also a flow of information within exile, between different media outlets. They could be sharing sources together. But again, it is a slow process of relationship building. There’s a need to build trust between different media outlets so that other media outlets would protect these sources.
Q: Could you elaborate more on this network of exile media outlets?
YB: That was quite interesting. For Syria, you had an exodus of people leaving, particularly journalists, media activists, etc. There was a large number of people leaving simultaneously, and they concentrated in several countries. The concentration is mainly in Turkey, which used to be bigger but is now a bit more diffused; however, there is still a concentration of media in Turkey. Related to that, there was a movement towards a consolidation of that concentration of exile media as a media sector.
So, you’ll have not only networks of these media organizations but also alternative journalist unions for journalists in exile to protect them. You also have networks of editors and editors-in-chief, both formal and informal. You have an ethical charter, which functions as a kind of self-regulating mechanism. It is imperfect and quite bureaucratic, and still not finalized, but it functions as a place where you can lodge complaints against things and articles that are said in the media. So you have the institutional level, which allows networking. I remember, for a number of years, there was a yearly meeting of editors-in-chief, journalists, people working in the media sector, and researchers working on Syrian media, which allowed another layer of informal networking and trust-building between these media outlets. At a personal level, people know each other quite well, so there is a high level of trust between them. So there is that flow of information between them.
But there is also the other side of it. They are competitors in certain ways, competing for audiences a little bit, but mainly competing for grant money. And that creates certain tensions and clustering, but you still have the informal and formal networks that still function as conduits for that kind of coalition building.
Exiled Media’s Financial Strategies: Public Service & Diversified Funding
Q: Being distanced from their local readership and facing many political constraints, how do media in exile maintain financial sustainability?
YB: For Syria, they are not only distanced from their primary readership, but they also faced a condition of war. There’s an economic dislocation that means the potential readership does not have the economic resources to support such a media sector. Most of them are refugees, left with nothing and no means to support these outlets. So the only real resource they have access to is grant funding. One way to deal with this is to think of themselves as public service media, with a public service mission in mind. On an ideological level, rather than orienting themselves towards a more commercial, private media model where they would chase advertising in a nonexistent market, most of them, or at least the most successful ones, tried to shift their mentality. They represent themselves as offering a public service, aiming to have a kind of public service mandate.
At the practical level, what you see is that funding has gone down quite a bit since around 2014-15. There are fewer resources available, which led to many media outlets closing. This resulted in consolidation. Now there are two main models: one like an organization like Enab Baladi, which is significant in terms of size. By my last check, there were around 50-60 full-time personnel, including reporters, staff, and editors. They mainly built a model of grant funding that distributes risk across many different funders. They have access to structural funding from several media development organizations. On top of that, they have project funding for short-term projects and goals. They diversify to avoid dependency on one funder for a large portion of their funding, as that creates existential risk for the organization. They also raise some money through crowdfunding. They are stable in the short to midterm, but it’s challenging to have growth or a strategy for them. They are stuck within the same margins that grow or shrink, and they can’t compete financially with better-funded private organizations.
Then you have organizations like SyriaUntold, which is a much smaller organization in terms of funding. There are 3 full-time staff, and most of the funding goes to commissioning, making it more flexible. If they have funding for 20 articles this month, they will publish 20 articles. If they have funding for 50, they will publish 50. But this creates instability and discontinuity in terms of funding. There’s a third model where organizations are heavily dependent on one funder, creating some risk for them now. For example, large organization could be dependening on a large pot of money. There will be money for the next two years, and then they’re on their own in some ways.
Engaging Diasporic Audiences for Financial Sustainability
YB: Now you will see we’ve come to a point where it’s almost ten years after that exodus. And I think one of the emerging and increasingly urgent challenges for these actors is transitioning to a semi-diasporic condition, as I would call it. This means linking up with diasporic networks of people who have migrated there for a long time and live in in-between spaces. The difference between exile and diaspora for me is that exile has a much more pronounced political component to it and is very much oriented towards the home country. While diaspora live in in-between spaces, they could be oriented towards the home country but could also be just as much oriented towards the host country. They have networks in both places and shift fluidly between them and these identities.
One of the challenges for these media outlets is to, in some ways, shift to a semi-diasporic orientation, to be able to serve diasporic audiences and capitalize on networks. Diasporic audiences have a higher accumulation of social capital and economic capital. However, if you are simply oriented towards the home country, it’s challenging to capitalize on that and to embed yourself within these networks. This shift might offer them a trajectory towards a business model that could work if grant funding is no longer viable.
Navigating the Complexities of Grant Funding and State Intervention for Exiled Media
Q: As you mentioned, exile media heavily relies on grant funding. Does this pose any challenges to the practice of journalism ethics?
YB: Once you start discussing grant funding for media outlets, you’re largely talking about state-funded support through state institutions. This means that, after several levels, state intervention occurs in a highly sensitive political and cultural domain. There is always, to some extent, a link to the foreign policy of the funding provider. This is a fundamental challenge that media outlets in exile, which depend on grant funding, must maneuver around. They are, in some ways, restricted or entangled with the foreign policy of the funder (e.g., the US), and similarly with the politics of the host country.
For example, in the Syrian case, many media operate from exile in Turkey, which is quite problematic at the moment. A difficult challenge for exile media is that they can easily slip into forming alliances or coalitions with people they would otherwise have nothing in common with. For instance, Syrian media that is deeply committed to human rights and free media could find themselves aligned with the Erdogan regime, which is jailing journalists in Turkey. They have to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Turkey right next to them. In some ways, this is one of the slippery slopes of exile because they are so fixated on the home country and are politically inclined. In reductive terms, they can only see things through the lens of exile politics.
Is Objectivity Essential? Exploring the Debate in Exiled Journalism
Q: Many exiled media might either be media in opposition to the local authority back in their hometown or advocacy media. How can they ensure this positioning does not compromise their objectivity? Or is there a need to maintain such objectivity?
YB: I think there’s a significant challenge to the classical understanding of objectivity in journalism scholarship at this moment. It’s worth questioning whether that is possible and how much it is actually linked to Europe, mainly US-centric views of how journalism should operate in practice. Objectivity becomes less valuable in how journalism is done. It’s much more about the routine of journalism than about actually thinking of journalism as a form of knowledge. I personally still think there is something to salvage from objectivity, not at the level of routine, but at the level of openness. Let’s say, not in the belief that there is an objective fact out there, but in the openness to the multiplicity of viewpoints on that fact, and then to a form of transparency. This transparency about multiple viewpoints is more desirable from a moral or ideological perspective. So, to me, transparency about where a certain journalist or media outlet stands is more important than objectivity as a kind of ritual.
Q: As you mention the importance of transparency, could you specifically elaborate on how exile media can use it as a way to tackle the objectivity issue?
YB: When it comes to the challenge of exile media with objectivity, in certain ways, this is doubly the case for them because there is a fundamental challenge to their reliability that comes from the fact that they are in exile. They have to perform even more to be accepted as serious journalism, rather than simply an extension of activism or partisan politics through the media. So there’s a fundamental challenge to their professional identity as journalists.
I don’t know if there is much that can be done beyond simply doing good journalism. For example, in the case of Egypt, one journalist was telling me that if they do the basic things that are about journalism, like going to the street, witnessing something, or interviewing someone, these basic things are so dangerous in Egypt that they become a form of activism. So, doing the basic things right, reporting with as much accuracy as possible, and providing a multiplicity of viewpoints is essential. This is easier for media in exile in certain ways because they have access to a broader perspective of opinion and other resources.
To go back to the question of objectivity and balance, I think transparency ranks higher than these. An ideal media environment gives you as many viewpoints on a certain issue as possible. If you scan ten newspapers, do you get 5-6 different understandings of the issue? It’s not only about having two contrasting viewpoints, but it’s about the details, the complexity that you can offer as someone from that context, even if that is biased in certain ways to your own experience or political aims, as long as these are transparent. I would much prefer to read a more complex, in-depth article by a journalist who clearly and transparently tells me they are with the Independence Movement from Hong Kong, rather than a tasteless article by a parachute journalist who goes there and only scratches the surface. At the same time, I can read another article by someone else who tells me they are against the independence of Hong Kong but gives me much more texture and detail.
Adapting to Social Media Trends for Economic Viability: The Struggle to Preserve In-Depth Journalism in the Digital Age
Q: How do you view media that are following the trend of commentary journalism and adopting the style of social media Key Opinion Leaders for expanding readership and getting subscriptions?
YB: That’s a really difficult challenge that’s not only particular to media in exile. Almost all media outlets are being challenged by the fast consumption of news and are trying to catch up with it. Not always successfully, indeed, almost never successfully. And you can see this in Syrian media as well. For example, Enab Baladi tried to catch up on TikTok, podcasts, and different channels, such as short YouTube videos and explainers.
I think in certain ways, you have to do that. Basically, you also have to go to where the audiences are, right? You have to be able to at least be in the universe where the audiences are and try to engage with them. Now, is that the only thing you should be doing? I don’t think so. And I think this relates to the earlier point that I made. If you position yourself as a provider of a public service, then you can also legitimize your position by saying: “look, I will try to go to where the audiences are at.” But the main mandate remains to provide complex, in-depth coverage. I would like to try to translate that to as many audiences as possible, but that remains subsidiary to the main mandate.
That is the strategy so far that Syrian media has taken with their grant funders. By being on TikTok, YouTube, etc., they are trying to find the audiences, but what the funders are funding is not these, not that kind of innovation. What they are funding is the actual journalism, the in-depth reporting, the investigative journalism, the news reporting, the daily news reporting. They fund it as they would fund a public service broadcaster in their country. Regardless of how many people read it, this is a record of the time in certain ways.
Bridging the Gap: Overcoming Distance Between Exiled Journalists and Local Contacts
Q: How can news coverage take local voices into account in a respectful and sensitive way when journalists’ understanding of the local situation might not be as accurate as that of the locals?
YB: That’s already difficult, but it becomes more difficult over time. Because you grow in two different trajectories, in certain ways. The other thing is to have the ability to see what other dynamics are happening there. Let’s go back to Syria; when journalists left Syria, their contacts were the people who were their contacts there before. Organizations they trust are the organizations that were there before, etc. So there is a bias towards these structures that were there before. Unless you actively search for other contacts and other organizations and other people, these old contacts might not reflect what the terrain or the map of who the players on the ground are anymore, especially after ten years in exile.
What I noticed is that you have to some extent accept a certain level of tension between the local corespondent and editor in exile are necessary. The editor who is sitting outside of Hong Kong doesn’t really understand the constraints, perhaps in the same way that a journalist inside Hong Kong doesn’t have the same awareness anymore of where public opinion is heading. But I don’t think this is absolute. On the other hand, the journalist that is inside also doesn’t have the broader view, as they could be fixated on their own personal experience and not see a more complex vision of what is happening in Hong Kong. One of the jokes that we often had in Syria is that if you want to know what is happening in Syria, then you should listen to Radio Brazil. Because they often had more accurate news about political developments in Syria than Syrian media itself. I think you should accept, to some extent, that kind of tension that is only resolvable through extensive communication in whatever ways possible.
Let me give you a concrete example. When I was doing my fieldwork in Turkey, I reached a point where there was a breakdown in the relationship between the editors in Turkey and the correspondents in Syria, to the point that they stopped publishing local news for a whole month because they felt it was biased. It was much more responsive to the security concerns of the correspondent and didn’t take into account the vision of the newspaper. It was no longer up to the quality that they had in mind. And the only way they could regain a level of collaboration was to have physical meetings again. So for a period, they organized a few workshops in Lebanon and Turkey to regain a connection and the ability to de-stress, to remove the correspondent from that position for a few days or a few weeks. To regain a connection, you need some sort of third space where you can reconnect. That was their solution.
And one more thing to try is a form of triangulation. Not to be so dependent on local reporters. So you will have things that you can only access through local reporters, such as personal experiences, but for many other things, such as considering political developments, broader contexts, etc., you might be able to triangulate between different levels of correspondents, international coverage, and experts. So try to combine all of these in a more nuanced manner. That’s another way they tried to go about it.
Reporting in Precarious Situations: Emotional Labor and Ethical Challenges
Q: Could you also explain more about the mental dimension or emotional labor of these tensions?
YB: There are two levels to this. One is the sense of precarity, the sense of actual and multilayers of precarity that both sides have to go through in different contexts. Someone in exile has to rebuild their life in exile. They have to accept the fact of exile. They have to rebuild their social networks, their social capital, etc. All of that requires emotional labor. And they also have to regulate their emotions as journalists because their professional identity is often questioned and challenged. But of course, for someone inside Hong Kong or Syria, the stakes are even higher because they are putting their life on the line. Not only is it your moral duty to represent their voices, but it is also your moral duty to recognize the sacrifice or the potential sacrifice that they are making to some extent.
I accept there is an argument to be said their voices and expressions need to come out as they are. But voice is not only about expression. It’s also about communicating. It’s also about being able to reflect on what you are saying and what you are trying to express, as well as where you want to go with that expression and what communities you are trying to reach. And how can you make that voice effective? In certain ways, this is the responsibility of the editor in exile. And I think they need to take up that responsibility to accept the multitude of pressures that the correspondent feels inside. We sympathize with it, but we also have a responsibility to provide a more nuanced account and to verify. The editor needs to do all of these things because their sacrifice is so big, so large, and so important to what we do. We don’t want it to go to waste in certain ways.
Q: Is there a risk that by reporting on certain surviving civic organizations, journalists may inadvertently attract oppression from local authorities? How should we address this ethical dilemma?
YB: That is a kind of political and ethical calculation that you always have to engage in when you are reporting on a context that is so fragile and precarious. What is the political price that you are trying to pay for that coverage? Is it worth it or not? You have to keep a long-term vision as an exile.
Q: In order to protect personnel in their home country, is there some criteria for measuring the political price?
YB: If we are talking about sources, I think you have to take a maximalist approach. If there is even a minimal possibility that it might jeopardize a source, an individual, I think you should think twice before publishing. Because this is a risk to their life, a risk to their future, etc. But when it comes to a political price, I don’t know what kind of criteria, I suppose this is much more context-dependent to some extent.
Language Dynamics in Hong Kong and Syrian Exile Media: Bridging Cultures and Expanding Audiences
Q: In your article “Independent Media in Rojava,” you mentioned that, in opposition to party media, there tends to be a use of multiple languages, especially Arabic, rather than giving prominence to Kurdish. With reference to this case, regarding Hong Kong in a greater sinophone world, what language should Hong Kong media use? Do we need to connect with a wider sinophone readership outside of the Hongkonger community?
YB: That’s an interesting question. For Kurdish media, there are two main differences that set the answer. One is that they already have a multilingual and multiethnic audience. They operate in an area where the audience speaks Arabic, might speak Kurdish, might speak Syriac, or might speak Armenian. So in certain ways, if they are not addressing these other languages, there is a fundamental shortcoming. The second thing is that there is a much larger Arabic public sphere that they would be engaging with, and they have the ability to compete within that in certain ways.
For Hong Kong in a greater sinophone sphere, first, I imagine mainland China is so massive, well-funded, and state-supported. In certain ways, it’s impossible to see how you can make a difference by publishing a magazine in Chinese. That could be one argument.
But I think another argument is to say that there is a fundamental responsibility to engage with this broader public sphere, even if you can only engage to a certain point. To engage in that means to speak in different tongues, publish in multiple languages, and try to engage as much as possible in the act of translation. Because once you start translating, you start rethinking things within a different paradigm and trying to translate them into a different paradigm, but you are also then engaging with knowledge that is produced within that sphere. You could be engaging with discussions happening in mainland China, and I think there is a fundamental responsibility, whether you think Hong Kong should be independent or should be part of China; it is still part of that cultural sphere in that sense.
And I make an analogy, whether you think Rojava should be an independent Kurdish state or part of Syria. By rule of geography, it is part of that geographic cultural continuum. It’s going nowhere. Like Hong Kong is not going to somehow wake up and find itself on the other side of the ocean. It’s always going to be in communication and communion with mainland China. So I think, especially from the point of view of a smaller territory, it makes a lot of sense to continuously engage with the larger neighbor and the larger public sphere.
Q: This could be very difficult and politically intense, as the discussion of Hong Kong independence is a fundamental rejection of saying that Hong Kong belongs to the same continuum as China. How would you address this?
YB: I understand. And this is a kind of logic that you see often. This kind of antagonism is only resolved by one side homogenizing the other, which is China. You can only be secure if China, which is this homogeneous entity, somehow disappears. Or for the Chinese, Hong Kong somehow disappears, or the idea of Hong Kong as an independent entity simply doesn’t happen. It doesn’t reflect the complexity of both Hong Kong and China. You can have that kind of political nationalism, saying that the well-being of Hong Kong and people from Hong Kong can only be achieved through a mechanism of independence. But to translate that is to say we need a fundamental separation between these two spheres, which moves into a realm of ideological ideal purity that is difficult for me to comprehend or support or to find feasible. Because it denies a lot of historical sedimentation of connection.
Q: How about publishing bilingually in English and Chinese? Is it necessary and why?
YB: That has become necessary for Syrian media. Most Syrian media outlets find themselves publishing bilingually, at least for part of their production. This has been almost the norm since 2015.
You have to think about it in two ways. One is that you have a fundamental constituency that you are trying to serve – Syrians within Syria and those in the diaspora or exile. You reach them through Arabic, but you also have a broader constituency of people who do not speak Arabic that you are also trying to reach. This is also part of your unspoken mandate through grant funding to actually reach that broader audience. Let’s say, whoever are the taxpayers in Denmark or Sweden or the US that co-funded these.
But it also creates an interesting mechanism to be less rigid in certain ways. Because if you confine yourself to a small sphere, a small echo chamber of people saying the same thing and convinced of the same thing, which is what might happen in one small language community that is very embittered, you become very insulated from people who might have different views or different solutions. And, of course, English is a lingua franca in certain ways, so you use that to reach a multitude of audiences that might be able to engage with your content. That is something that Syrian media have been doing.
I think the different issue with Hong Kong is that there was a lot of international media focus. It makes sense to publish in English where you would have found an audience. I think it would have been an interesting counter-narrative or a more complex narrative on Hong Kong for local journalists writing about it in English or translating it into English. But I think it will become more and more important because international media have moved on to other things, such as Ukraine. Now there is a lot less coverage or focus on Hong Kong. I suppose this will make it more and more important to start publishing in English. And because of the history of Chinese migration and migration from Hong Kong, I think there is a much more complex and larger audience that you might have access to by publishing in English. An audience that might be less inclined to think of partisanship in the same way as they didn’t grow up within the same conditions. They either grew up in Australia or in the US, etc. As a 2nd or 3rd generation, they might also be able to rewire the proposition differently and be more innovative and imaginative about the possible pathways out of this situation.
Exile Journalism in the Global Network
Q: I wonder how the method of investigation and collecting information used by exile journalists has inspired the global news media sector?
YB: I don’t want to talk about causality, but there are certainly some synergies that you can see between exile media from Syria or Ukraine even before the war. From 2014, the development of open-source investigations (OSI) journalism used similar resources to what exile media might use. Exile media adds links to the local context. So there’s a really interesting synergy to note here, because together they can form investigative teams.
And that’s something you see in the collaborations they have with Ukrainian journalists and Russian journalists in exile. Because you also need an understanding of the local context and its complexity. Also, if you are looking at a map of a neighborhood in Hong Kong, as a local, being able to navigate that map makes it a lot easier to come to certain conclusions or find evidence, etc. So there are synergies between international, local, and exile journalists. Another area is the broader community of large-scale investigative journalism, with which there is also a lot of synergy with exile journalists.
For example, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that dealt with the Panama Papers. For countries with authoritarian political regimes where you might not be able to operate freely within the country, the main interlocutors were media in exile. They function as important nodes between local context and international networks. But in certain ways, as they need to be technologically advanced and networked due to the condition of exile, media in exile are also sites of innovation. For example, how networked newsrooms function is experimental. I think as a journalism researcher, you can find these innovative practices will eventually make their way into mainstream and elite newsrooms.
A Hierarchy of Legitimate Journalism
Q: Could you elaborate on the role of media in exile played in the international media sector?
YB: The other thing is, as media in exile, they also have a fundamentally important role as mediators for international media, as a kind of node in international coverage. There is a thick network now between international journalists and media in exile. For example, for international journalists who go to Turkey to report on Syria, they use the expertise of local Syrian journalists in exile in Turkey. And that creates a chain of legitimacy, legitimizing the work of these exile journalists. But it remains quite hierarchical, where a reporter from the New York Times is, by definition, more legitimate, more reliable, more authentic than a local journalist, even if all of the data and information they are publishing is through the local journalist. So there is that flip side to that. But that is also a role for exile media, which they actually play in most contexts.
Q: Do you think Hong Kong media should more actively participate in these open-source investigative journalism networks? Could this increase the capacity to develop long-term and more strategic editorial goals?
YB: I think that will be necessary and indeed. For any media in exile, you need to maintain strong networks with mainstream media in your host country, but also with international or transnational organizations. Because they are also a more welcoming home. There’s a better understanding of the fluidity, difficulties, and precarity of exile media within these consortiums than with mainstream media outlets in the US or UK, etc. There is a fundamental instability and misunderstanding or an inability to understand the kind of precarity exile media are facing.
Q: Could you expand on how these transnational organizations could empower exile journalists?
YB: For example, in the European Federation of Journalists or other kinds of journalist unions. There is an Exile Journalist Union for Syrian journalists as an observatory member because there is a membership for the Syrian Journalist Union, but that is regime-controlled. Being able to access this kind of institutional structure gives these journalists a lot more legitimacy, and practically, they are able to apply for press cards which allow them to travel and do their job.
There are also examples more related to employment and collaboration. There are instances of local, mainstream, or international media collaborating with journalists in exile to report on their home country, but these are few, and I would say not the norm. There is a problem with language, obviously. There are problems with routines that are quite different sometimes. There is also the problem that international media, unconsciously, don’t take journalists in exile seriously as journalists. Again, there is a kind of hierarchy of who is a legitimate journalist.
Some of the more interesting collaborations come at an institutional level between large media organizations and the media organizations themselves, like experiments in co-publishing, in developing joint small newsrooms, etc. For example, there was an experiment by Enab Baladi with a Danish mainstream newspaper to create a joint newsroom to cover Syria for one week, which was also a kind of fundraising. Or take The Guardian Foundation as an example; they mainly fund media outlets to develop content for The Guardian, so there are certain collaborations. But again, by no means is it the norm. The main point of friction comes with the exile journalists being treated as fixers rather than journalists.