A refuge for the freedom of press

Lucas Chedeville, translated by Mélanie Lopez
9 Décembre 2015

Since its creation in France in 2002, la Maison des journalistes (the House of journalists) have been hosting almost 300 foreign journalists from sixty different countries such as Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Syria, Armenia and Uzbekistan. The French organisation, the only one of its kind in the world, provides a bulwark against the freedom of press, too often not respected around the globe.

Credits Lucas Chedeville
Credits Lucas Chedeville
Tarik is a Syrian journalist of the opposition aged around 30, who reported on the life of the population since the beginning of the war, against the propaganda images of al-Assad’s government. However, such reports inevitably ended him to prison. Once released, he fled to neighbouring Jordan to keep working as a journalist and to film the misfortune of his people in refugee camps. Confronting increasing threats, he was forced into exile and found refuge in France, less than a year ago. 

A place of refuge

Tarik is one of the fifteen men and six women who actually live on the organisation premises. More than a roof, the “tenants” are also given a social support to help them with the complex administrative procedures: asylum application, Pôle emploi (the French employment centre), medical insurance, accommodation research… They also attend French lessons which is essential for their social and professional inclusions in France.

Everyone has their own room. The latter are financed mainly by French media and are christened according to the name of its sponsor. Thus, there are the rooms “Canard Enchaîné” (a satirical newspaper), “Ouest France” or “La Voix du Nord”, two regional newspapers. The kitchen is shared, so is the working area, a little room with computers and WiFi access in order to write articles and do some researches. 

Promoting exiles’ voices

The organisation used to have partnerships with many French prestigious journalism schools such as ESJ Lille, but put an end to them because of the language barriers and the difficulty for many of studying again after having working for ten, twenty or thirty years in the press business. 

Nevertheless, exchange programs still exist through two projects: Renvoyé Spécial and Presse 19. The first program is in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education and Presstalis, a press distribution company in which journalists share their experience in high schools, talk about the situation of their country of origin, help students to discover their culture and debate together on the issue of the liberty of press. 

Presse 19 is a reference to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948: “Everyone has the right of freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The first and only meeting took place last November in Turin in collaboration with the organisation Caffè dei Giornalisti. Two Chechen and Azeri journalists from la Maison des journalistes, Zara Mourtazalieva and Agil Khalilov met students of the city in juridical, political and economic sciences. 

“The objective, through these projects, are to allow these students to discover new topics they don’t necessarily or barely know. We try to launch an intellectual debate. It is a meeting more than a conference” said Darline Cothières, the director of  la Maison des journalistes. The discussion continues with the media of the organisation, L’Oeil de l’exilé (the exile’s Eye), where journalists can write about events that occur in their country of origin. They also write for the Blog de Médiapart, a French newspaper of opinion. 

The hall of the Maison, occupied by the Syrian photojournalist Muzaffar Salman’s exhibition “Alep Point Zéro” - Credits Lucas Chedeville
The hall of the Maison, occupied by the Syrian photojournalist Muzaffar Salman’s exhibition “Alep Point Zéro” - Credits Lucas Chedeville

A lookout of the situation of the press in the World

The terrorist attack of January that generated intense emotions in the world did not have any impact on the financial contributions of the organisation. However, the number of requests of intervention made by teachers or principal high schools multiplied in the next months following the attack. “It was important to explain to the young students that the liberty of speech was a fundamental right. The fight continues but we still need to be careful without forgetting how lucky we are to be in France” added Darline Cothières.

Thanks to the different nationalities of the journalists, it is easy to make links with the current wars happening in the world. The recent military operations that occurred in Africa, Mali, Congo and in the Central Africa Republic had led many journalists to seek a refuge far from persecutions as in Syria and Iraq where the highest number of persecuted came from not that long ago. Nevertheless, the criteria of wars should not be the only one taken into account. Darline Corthières gives China, Iran or Azerbaijan (respectively 176th, 173rd and 162nd out of 180 countries according the last Reporters Without Borders rank about the liberty of press) as examples of countries not in a situation of war but in which journalists are muzzled and exiled themselves in our organisation. “We are on kind of a lookout, a barometer of the evolution of the liberty of press and of speech in the world”, concludes the director.