Advice for journalists forced into exile

Jul 2, 2024 en Press Freedom
Man with a camera in front of a airport departure board

From Afghanistan and Russia, to Venezuela, Eritrea and beyond, journalists globally have fled – and continue to flee – threats to their lives and livelihoods under authoritarian regimes. Entire newsrooms in these contexts have shuttered operations to avoid imminent danger to their employees and financial ruin.

Today, many of these journalists and outlets have reestablished themselves abroad. They continue their important work of providing credible, fact-based information to audiences back home and in the diaspora, who otherwise lack sources of critical, independent news.



IJNet’s Exiled Media Toolkit, developed in collaboration with the Network of Exiled Media Outlets (NEMO), features advice from journalists with first-hand knowledge of the challenges exiled journalists face. It includes tips on how exiled outlets can remain relevant to their audiences, how to measure their impact from exile – which can be especially difficult under an authoritarian regime – and the importance of maintaining a network of journalists in-country. The resource package also includes case studies of exiled journalists from Myanmar, Russia and Nicaragua, which shed light on the paths taken by three different outlets to establish themselves abroad, each amid uniquely trying circumstances.

During a recent IJNet Crisis Reporting Forum session, two NEMO members who contributed to the toolkit offered advice and insights for fellow media workers in exile. Matt Kasper, co-director of Vereinigung für die Demokratie, the Berlin-based NGO that manages Azerbaijan’s Meydan TV, and Cinthia Membreño the former audience loyalty manager of Nicaragua’s Confidencial and the coordinator of NEMO, discussed their experiences working with exiled media outlets, key tips from the toolkit, and more.

Learning from one another

In authoritarian states, where independent media is often suppressed, audiences are extremely vulnerable, said Membreño, as “they don’t get reliable information that doesn’t come from the regime.” 

Exiled media outlets play a critical role in filling this void, providing audiences an independent source of credible information.

Membreño has seen how important the work of exiled journalism is in her own country, Nicaragua. “I have been doing journalism or working in media for more than a decade, and I’ve seen in Nicaragua the results that reliable information can have in decision-making,” she said. “The fact that Nicaraguans can access stories about the government, stories about the social situation of the country [...] the fact that they know this information, it’s going to pay off.”

Authoritarian regimes consistently restrict information access, hindering journalists’ ability to reach their audiences and report the truth. These regimes often learn from one another in their efforts to stifle critical reporting.

Exiled media would be wise to learn from each other, too, to keep pace. Sharing information on how to navigate common challenges exiled journalists and newsrooms face can prepare their colleagues to navigate comparable circumstances and address similar challenges.

“One of the main reasons why NEMO came together was the idea that we see regimes copying each other,” said Kasper. “We shouldn’t be creating our own individual solutions to all of these [challenges] when the solutions probably exist somewhere else. We should be sharing them and that will lessen the effect that these regimes are having.”

First steps

Establishing a legal entity is a necessary first step for any newsroom launching or moving abroad, advised Kasper. Doing so allows an outlet to carry out many of its administrative operations, for instance receiving funding and donations, and paying its employees.

The toolkit resource Kasper authored, titled Exiled Media 101, offers advice on setting up a legal entity. It also dives into security considerations for journalists and their audiences, and how nonprofit exiled outlets can take advantage of discounted tools for their work. 

“The tips are coming from mistakes or difficulties that we [at Meydan] had in the last five years, or even before that, as an organization that made our development slower, more difficult, [and] took a lot of time and energy and effort to solve,” said Kasper.

Crucially, Kasper urged newly exiled journalists and newsrooms to contact experts such as accountants and lawyers, who are familiar with the country they are laying roots in: “It’s worth it to invest in the right people who know what they are talking about.”

Generating revenue

Finding solid financial footing is a central, ongoing challenge for any exiled newsroom. Traditional revenue sources may not be available, either, forcing outlets to explore new models

Confidencial, recalled Membreño, tackled this issue head-on when they relocated from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. “That posed a lot of challenges in terms of how do we get readers to donate, how do we get them to participate in our membership program, and how do you collect the money, especially when the media outlet is going from one country to another,” she said.

Developing a revenue model should start with soliciting feedback and insights from readers, suggested Membreño. For instance, when surveying their audience, Confidencial discovered that more than 50% were interested in supporting the outlet financially. 

With this new knowledge in hand, despite initial hesitations, the outlet began asking readers directly for donations. The money brought in provided a new and vital source of revenue as Confidencial established itself in Costa Rica.

Devising content strategy

When deciding on content strategy, exiled media outlets should consider the needs of those who remain in their home country as well as people who have fled abroad. 

For example, Membreño described how in Costa Rica, there is a large Nicaraguan migrant population. Local outlets, however, were not covering this community despite their growing numbers and influence. Confidencial worked to fill this void by creating content aimed at Nicaraguans now living outside of the country.

Journalists can draw on their own experiences moving abroad when considering what to report on. Addressing exiled journalists, Membreño said: “Because you’re also a migrant, what are the things you would have liked to read in the media that were responding to your needs? Is it legal advice, is it how to send money to your country, is it what’s happening with the community?" These are all topics that would be relevant to audiences in the diaspora.

Above all, and despite the many challenges in front of them, journalists in exile must not lose hope, urged Membreño. 

“I know it’s hard… [but] don’t quit, don’t give up,” she said. “The worst thing that can happen to audiences inside and outside the country is not having the information, and the quality of information, that you, as a journalist or as a team of media outlets, can bring.”

Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash.