Media Watchdog as Democracy Manipulator

Having already investigated the ‘democratic’ ties of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in the first two parts of this article, Part 3 will now reveal how many of the recipients of their annual Fondation de France Prize are intimately linked to the ‘democracy promoting’ community.  

The Reporters Sans Frontières-Fondation de France Prize, worth 50,000 francs [or US$11,000], has been awarded annually since 1992 to journalists who, through their work or attitudes, have demonstrated their devotion to press freedom.”

The Siege of Sarajevo

­The first ever RSF-Fondation de France Prize was awarded in 1992 during the siege of Sarajevo, to Zlatko Dizdarevic, a Sarajevo journalist and writer, who was the editor of the daily Bosnian newspaper Oslobodjenje. [1] Dizdarevic’s receipt of this award fitted in well with the interests of Western elites, who throughout the 1990s, were persistent in their efforts to thoroughly demonize Slobodan Milosevic via their support of ‘independent’ (Western friendly) media outlets. For further details on the critical role the Western media played in this lengthy smear campaign, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s (2007) The Dismantling of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse). It should almost be expected then that Dizdarevic’s newspaper, Oslobodjenje, received a grant from the NED in 1994 to “purchase desperately-needed newsprint” and to “support the continued publication of the most important daily independent newspaper in the war torn city of Sarajevo”. Two years later the NED pointed out that “Oslobodjenje cannot survive without outside assistance”, an excuse they used to provide them with another grant to “purchase newsprint and to help pay its staff”. Furthermore, the following year Oslobodjenje received additional aid from the Westminster Foundation to “fund further equipment purchases”. 

Promoting ‘Democracy’ in China

The 1993 winner of RSF’s annual prize was Wang Juntao of Economic Weekly. Juntao has many ‘democratic’ ties, and during the 1980s, with the aid of democracy activist Chen Ziming, he published the samizdat magazine Beijing Spring (a magazine that has received annual NED aid since 2001). In 1987, Juntao and Chen then bought Economic Weekly, and Chen became the publisher and Wang the acting deputy chief editor”. Juntao and Chen were subsequently rewarded for their democratic activism when in 1991 they both received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. [2] (For further details of ‘democratic’ journalists who have received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual award see my recent article Washington Promotes ‘Independent’ Media in Venezuela.)

Nowadays Juntao maintains close ties to the NED as he is chair of the board of Press Freedom Guardian – a Los Angeles-based Chinese-language bi-weekly newspaper which received annual NED aid between 1993 and 2005 (but not in 2000). In addition, Juntao also founded the US-based China Strategic Institute, an organization which received NED aid in 1996 and 1997, and “helps law firms in China bring human-rights suits under Chinese law.”

Defending ‘Human Rights’ in Rwanda

In 1994, a Roman Catholic priest and journalist named Andre Sibomana (deceased 1998) received RSF’s Fondation de France press freedom award. It is interesting to observe that Sibomana served for several years as the president of a group called the Rwandese Association for the Defence of Human Rights and Public Liberties (ADL). ADL was created in 1991, and in 1994 they received a grant from the NED channeled via the International Human Rights Law Group (now known as Global Rights) to “support the reestablishment of [ADL] …and to enable it to conduct inquiries into the genocide in Rwanda, document human rights abuses, and develop strategies to encourage repatriation, greater human rights protections, and fair conduct of the war crimes tribunal.” Moreover, the following year Rights and Democracy also provided ADL with a further grant. Finally, it is worth pointing out that Sibomana played a “critical role” in another human rights group, the Rwandan Collective of Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights (CLADHO) – a “collective of [four] human rights organizations of which ADL is a member” which received a grant from Rights and Democracy in 1995.

Writing About a Nigerian Coup

Nigerian writer Christina Anyanwu – who was the founder, editor and publisher of Nigeria’s The Sunday Magazine – won RSF’s 1995 prize while serving time in prison because of an article she published on March 1, 1995 about an attempted coup against the Nigerian government”. Soon after being jailed the ‘democratically’ connected International Women’s Media Foundation awarded her their annual Courage Award in 1995. Anyanwu then remained in prison until 1998, the year in which she received UNESCO’s Press Freedom Award. Furthermore, according to UNESCO’s website, both RSF and the World Press Freedom Committee proposed to the UN that she should win their prize. Like, former RSF prize winner Wang Juntao, Anyanwu also received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award (in 1997) while she was in prison.

Moving forward to the present, Anyanwu is now a successful media magnate in Nigeria and owns Spectrum Broadcasting Company, which “operates Abuja’s number one radio station, Hot 98.3 FM”, and in 2006 she “decided to seek the Senatorial ticket for the Owerri zone”.

A Pro-Kurdish Daily

The next winner of RSF’s journalism prize (in 1996) was Ocak Isik Yurtcu, who was the “former editor of the pro-Kurdish daily ‘Ozgur Gundem’, [and] was sentenced in December 1994 to over ten years in prison for news articles that appeared during his tenure as editor from 1991 to 1992”. However, as a result of international pressure, after serving almost 32 months of his sentence Yurtcu was released from prison (on August 15, 1997). Yurtcu does not appear to have any direct ‘democratic’ ties, however, in 1995 he was a recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. Note that in 1995 nine people received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ award, and at least three now have ‘democratic’ ties, these are Fred M’Membe (who currently serves on management committee of the Institute for Media, Peace and Security, alongside key establishment figures like Maurice Strong, and John Owen, the former European director of the Freedom Forum); Ahmad Taufik (who is the founding chair of the Indonesian-based Alliance of Independent Journalists, a group which is a member of the NED-funded Southeast Asian Press Alliance); and Daoud Kuttab who at the time worked for Internews Middle East.

More Support for Cuban Dissidents

In 1997, Raul Rivero, the poet, journalist and founder of the unofficial press agency Cuba Press, received RSF’s Fondation de France Prize. It is all too predictable that RSF would support Cuban ‘democracy’ activists, and it is also easy to understand why the Cuban government might not be too happy with the work of such activists. It is important to note then that in March 2003 Rivero was arrested by the Cuban government along with many other dissident journalists, an event that caused an international outcry amongst the (still rabidly anti-communist) corporate media.

As a direct result of Rivero’s arrest, the PEN Center USA awarded him their Freedom to Write prize, and the following year he received UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. However, as Rosa Elizalde and Luis Baez illustrate in their book The Dissidents (2003), despite receiving support from the international media and human rights groups, it turns out that the main reason why Rivero was imprisoned was because he had received aid from the US Office of Interests in Havana and from the Cuban American National Foundation. In actual fact in opposition to what the corporate media and RSF might have us believe the Cuban government does not lock-up all dissidents, however, it does lock-up those dissidents that are supported by foreign groups trying to oust their government. As Salim Lamrani (2005) observes:

The two Cuban ‘dissidents’ with the largest media influence at international level, who launch the most acerbic diatribes against the Cuban revolution and who enjoy the most sustained support of the Cuban-origin extremists in Miami, are Oswaldo Payá and Elizardo Sánchez. Compared with them, Raul Rivero seems like a relatively moderate and cautious ‘opponent’.  However, this latter person has been condemned to 20 years imprisonment. Payá and Sánchez have never had any problems with the law, although their political writings are much more virulent than Rivero’s. The explanation is simple enough:  Payá and Sánchez have up until now always refused the generous financial support offered by Washington, while Rivero made the error of profiting from the financial largesse of the Bush administration. And this is what has been punished, not a supposedly heterodox literary and political output. These concrete facts clearly show that the argument accusing the Cuban authorities of imprisoning people for their ideas has well nigh zero credibility.”


Finally, given Rivero’s courting of US ‘democracy promoters’ it is entirely consistent that he should have served as a director of the ‘democratic’ Inter-American Press Association from 2004 to 2007.

The Syrian WMD Warmonger

The 1998 RSF prize was awarded to Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf, editor of the banned monthly journal The Voice of Democracy, which is produced by the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights – an organisation he helped cofound. Nayyouf was in prison when he received his award as he was arrested on January 10, 1992, for writing leaflets and for being a member of CDF. He was eventually released from prison in 2001. In 2000, Nayyouf received both the Golden Pen of Freedom from the World Association of Newspapers, and UNESCO’s Freedom of the Press Award. Incidentally, the US representative on the board of the World Association of Newspapers is Scott C. Schurz who was recently named honorary president for life by the Inter-American Press Association.

In 2005 the current president of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights, Aktham Naisse, was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. This is worth noting because four of the fourteen people who have received the award – which has been distributed since 1994 – are linked to the NED, these include Harry Wu (who is the executive director of two NED-funded organizations, the Laogai Research Foundation and the China Information Center), Asma Jahangir (who is a director of both Realizing Rights and the International Crisis Group, a commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, and serves on the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project), Eyad Rajab El-Sarraj (who is a trustee of the NED-funded Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, and is a former council member of the International Council on Human Rights Policy), and Immaculee Birhaheka (who is the cofounder and president of the NED-funded Promotion and Support for Women’s Initiatives). Finally, although not linked to the NED directly, Akbar Ganji (see Part 2) won the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2006. [3]

Returning to Nayyouf’s background, although few people have written about it, it is of critical importance that Nayyouf played a significant role in promoting the illegal war on Iraq by claiming in January 2004 to “have knowledge of the locations of three sites within Syria storing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction”. He revealed this information just before former Science Applications International Corporation vice president, David A. Kay, told the London Telegraph, that “a lot of material went to Syria [from Iraq] before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMD program … precisely what went to Syria and what has happened to it is a major issue that needs to be resolved”. So while the role Nayyouf fulfilled in promoting the destruction of Iraq usually goes unmentioned, he now lives in France and acts as the secretary-general of the Arab Organization for the Defence of Expression and Press Freedom. [4] Furthermore, he is also “active in the Syrian Democratic Coalition, a group of about 14 Syrian opposition movements aiming for the establishment of a democratic regime in Syria”.

Burma and the National League for Democracy

In 1999 the imprisoned Burmese dissident San San Nweh was awarded RSF’s annual prize. At the time of receiving the award Nweh was in prison, as in 1994 she had been sentenced to prison for ten years for passing “‘anti-government reports’ to French journalists and for ‘providing information about the human rights situation to the UN special rapporteur for Burma’”. Nweh was eventually released from prison in 2001.

In her absence, Nweh’s RSF prize was presented to Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been living under house arrest since her party the National League for Democracy was elected by a landslide in 1990. That Aung San Suu Kyi received the award on Nweh’s behalf is appropriate as although at the time of her arrest (in 1994) Nweh was an editor of two journals Gita Ppade-tha and Einmet-hpu, and she had also previously been a “member of the Divisional Organizing Committee [of the National League for Democracy] and an executive member of the[ir] Central Intellectual Group”.
Although the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi is clearly unjust, to date, few people have commented on her links to the broader ‘democracy promoting’ community. These links include her serving on the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and as an honorary director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. In addition, Tom Andrews, who serves as a senior advisor to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (a core NED grantee) – and is also the national director of the MoveOn-linked group Win Without War – also “works on behalf” of Aung San Suu Kyi. Likewise, Aung San Suu Kyi’s representative on the Peacejam Board (an educational organization comprised of Nobel Peace Laureates), Michele Bohana, is a founding director of the NED-funded International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and is the director of the Institute for Asian Democracy. ‘Democratic’ trustees of the latter group include
Gare A. Smith (who formerly served “as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor”, is a director of the ICT, and is a member of the Fund for Peace’s Human Rights and Business Roundtable), and Chris Beyrer (who “serves as a member of the Global Health Advisory Council of the Open Society Institute… and [as an] advisor to the Asia Society’s Social Issues Program”).

It is also intriguing to note that just before her release from prison in 2001, the World Association of Newspapers awarded San San Nweh (and another famous Burmese journalist, U Win Tin, who incidentally received RSF’s press freedom award in 2006) its annual press freedom prize, the Golden Pen of Freedom. Additionally, in 2001 Nweh also received one of Human Rights Watch’s annual Hellman/Hammett Grants, alongside notable recipients like Bei Ling (who is the founder and former executive director of the Independent Chinese PEN Center), Carmen Gurruchaga (who received RSF’s press freedom award the year before – see next), and Grigory Pasko (who received RSF’s press freedom award in 2002).


Finally, given the NED’s long-term interests in supporting Burmese democracy activists it is important that progressive activists around the world attempt to comprehend the extent of international manipulation of Burma’s democratic activism. William Engdahl (2007) notes that the “tragedy of Burma, whose land area is about the size of George W. Bush’s Texas, is that its population is being used as a human stage prop in a drama scripted in Washington by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the George Soros Open Society Institute, Freedom House and Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution”. He goes on to point out that:

“…the US State Department has recruited and trained key opposition leaders from numerous anti-government organizations. It has poured the relatively huge sum (for Myanmar) of more than $2.5 million annually into NED activities in promoting regime change in Myanmar since at least 2003. The US regime change, its Saffron Revolution, is being largely run according to informed reports, out of the US Consulate General in bordering Chaing Mai, Thailand. There activists are recruited and trained, in some cases directly in the USA, before being sent back to organize inside Myanmar. The USA’s NED admits to funding key opposition media including the New Era Journal, Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma radio.”


To be continued…The forth and final  installment of this article will examine the more recent recipients of RSF’s annual Fondation de France Prize, and then conclude by offering some suggestions for how the issues raised within this article may be acted upon by progressive activists.  

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] All four parts of this article and some of his other recent articles can be found right here.



[1] Ammiel Alcalay edited and co-translated Zlatko Dizdarevic’s Sarajevo: A War Journal (Fromm, 1995) and Portraits of Sarajevo (Henry Holt, 1994). “During the war in former Yugoslavia [Alcalay] was a primary source for providing access in the American media to Bosnian voices… He was responsible for publication of the first survivor’s account in English from a victim held in a Serb concentration camp, The Tenth Circle of Hell by Rezak Hukanovic (Basic Books, 1996), which he co-translated and edited. He edited and co-translated a major new anthology of contemporary Middle Eastern Jewish writing, Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing (City Lights, 1996), the first collection of its kind in any language. He has also translated two books by the Cuban poet Jose’ Kozer, Projimos / Intimates (Barcelona, 1990), and The Ark Upon the Number (Cross-Cultural Press, 1982).” (Interview: Ammiel Alcalay and the Limits of Translation.) It is also noteworthy that Elie Wiesel wrote the foreword to Rezan Hukanovic’s memoir of life in the Bosnian concentration camps.

[2] On February 12, 1991, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming were imprisoned in China: in 1994, both were then released from prison on medical parole, and while Wang moved to America, Chen was rearrested in the following year and only released from house arrest in 2002.

[3] Further details of the ‘democratic’ nature of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders will be outline in another forthcoming article.

[4] Annon, IFJ accuses Syria of "vendetta" against exiled journalist’s family, BBC Monitoring Media, June 3, 2003.


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