Saturday, November 10, 2007

Reporters Without Scruples

Created ostensibly to promote honesty in the media and defend those who report from the influence of influencial parties, specifically governments and international organizations, Reporters Without Borders promotes itself as a kind of Red Cross of information beyond the reach of corruption or manipulation. They’re supposed to be the ones in the white hats who ride in to defend the channels of communication from governments when they coerce or bar the press to get them to act at their will.

At least that’s what they say they do. World Politics Review has noted just how rigged up the whole basis of their foundation and claims really are.

Last month, the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders released its annual "Press Freedom Index," which ostensibly "measures the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world." (Reflecting its French origins, Reporters Without Borders is most commonly known internationally by its French initials, RSF for Reporters sans frontières, and this acronym will be used here.) The 14 countries performing best in the RSF evaluation were all European, as were 17 of the top 20, 20 of the top 25, and 25 of the top 35. The United States placed a very mediocre 48th -- just behind Nicaragua. "Outside Europe," the RSF press release notes, "no region of the world has been spared censorship or violence towards journalists" -- an assessment that suggests that Europe has indeed been "spared" both.

The performance of European countries in the RSF press freedom rankings is impressive. It becomes less impressive, however, when one knows the extent to which RSF depends for its financing upon European governments: either directly or indirectly via the European Union. RSF is commonly referred to as a "non-governmental organization" or "NGO." But in light of its financial dependence upon and close ties to, in particular, the French government and, above all, European institutions, RSF could be regarded as the very prototype of what might better be called a "PGO": a "para-governmental organization." As will be seen in Part II of this exposé (to be published next week), its highly curious rankings map far better upon the external -- and, in certain cases, internal -- political agenda of the European Union than upon any concrete indicators of press freedoms, or restrictions thereupon, in the countries RSF claims to be objectively evaluating.
All you have to do is follow the money.
To start with, and by its own reckoning, 9 percent of RSF's 2006 income consisted of "public subsidies." The source of these subsidies is, namely, the French state. The Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the International Organization for "Francophonie" (OIF) are specifically mentioned as contributors. (On the largely French-funded OIF, see here.) This 9 percent figure represents, again by RSF's reckoning, "a very slight decline" compared to 2005 (when the French subsidies represented 10 percent of the RSF budget).

In RSF's published 2006 accounts, which include only aggregate numbers, the budget line "subsidies" lists some €562,179 in income for 2006. This, however, amounts to 15 percent, not 9 percent, of RSF's total budget of nearly 3.9 million euros. It is down, moreover, from some €1,225,567 in 2005 -- which, as a percentage of RSF's relatively stable total budget, clearly represents far more than just a "very slight" 1 percent decline. These anomalies presumably indicate that some other -- unnamed and not French -- source is being counted under the heading of "subsidies" in the accounts.

More puzzling still, in the English version of the RSF 2006 accounts, the subsidies line in the French accounts quite simply . . . disappears.
What Rosenthal finds is that RSF has grown into a willing Propaganda operation for hire: they could discuss the glories of their nations, professions, and themselves on the taxpayers' nickel
Even if RSF continues to enjoy a special (if, as will be seen in Part II, sometimes, conflicted) relationship with the French government, the French subsidies it receives have over the years been far outstripped by those it receives from another "public" source: namely, the European Commission. A May 2001 European Commission working paper (link in French) lists a grant of some €1,487,000 to RSF. This figure would at the time have represented over half of RSF's total annual budget. In the same year, RSF was accorded yet another EU grant of €300,000. The Commission working paper notes that RSF "has long been a partner of the Commission in realizing activities focusing on the preservation and encouragement of independent media." It then goes on to describe at length the benefits expected from the grant to RSF, treating RSF throughout as just a vector of its own activity in the area of ostensible promotion of press freedoms. ("These activities will give rise to a large number of publications and other projects," the working paper notes, "such as the annual RSF reports for 2001 and 2002, which will focus on cases of imprisoned journalists.")
In other words, the metrics pointing to their own purity of everything uses means as simple and crass as a shoebox full of cash is engineered to promote the nation as a product, without flaws or lapses in ethics such as these:
As such, we’ve coined the term "bogus opposition” to identify the sources of those people who try to find substitutes for real opponents [of the government]. At the service of the regime, these “faux-opposants” deliver a message hostile to any change in the regime.

Our task is made all the more difficult because the AFP Iran Bureau talks tirelessly of moderation or pragmatism reminiscent of the past, of moderates who’ve gotten their hands dirty, sometimes under an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity for murder, or real exiled members of the opposition.

Right beside news written by the AFP Iran Bureau, are copies of dispatches written by the Iranian press agency official of the regime of the mullahs, IRNA!

Now our task is even more difficult because it is in Paris at the premises of the AFP, that the directors-general of the Iranian news agency, IRNA, and French AFP, have signed an agreement to “promote their cooperation.”
In other words, bought off at the service of a hostile theist regime which has already managed to spend nearly a decade playing the governments of the population that AFP serves like a violin. Playing them in this manner doesn’t serve the cause of any interest in the truth. Were the truth not something that the Iranian regime feared, none of this would be necessary.

The making rare of any access they can have, and then dispensing it by the spoonful at the cost of honesty points clearly to the Iranian regime’s intent.