New NGO Run-Newsletter Enhances News Access in Kakuma
FilmAid International Kakuma has launched a refugee newsletter under the umbrella of UNHCR
KANERE, an Independent Refugee Free Press, welcomes the addition of a FilmAid newsletter, The Refugee Newsletter, to the media environment of Kakuma refugee camp. The Refugee Newsletter is sponsored and run by the NGO FilmAid. It aims to be youth focused, providing students enrolled in FilmAid’s Journalism Training Program an opportunity to write and publish.
The more information and expression that refugees have, the better the enhancement of voices in Kakuma. The critical question is, what is the difference between the two newsletters in the camp?
Two news outlets with distinct characteristics
So what are the meaningful differences between a refugee-run and an NGO-run newsletter? Here in Kakuma, the difference arises in several forms, including editing and management, funding and material support, and journalist identities.
Perhaps the most important difference concerns editing and management of the news outlets. The Refugee Newsletter is edited and published by FilmAid. The Chief Editor and head of design and layout is Mr. Paul O. Odongo, a national (Kenyan) staff member. The former UNHCR mass information officer, Caroline Opile, is also involved in supporting the publication as it is considered a humanitarian outlet under the umbrella of the NGOs. KANERE, on the other hand, is completely independent of UNHCR and other NGOs, being run and operated entirely by refugee exile journalists in the camp, on their own budgets.
Another difference lies in funding and material support. KANERE is not empowered by humanitarian NGOs in their operation, while The Refugee Newsletter is well funded and equipped through FilmAid. The offices of The Refugee Newsletter are based in NGO premises in the Humanitarian Aid Compound One, where it is edited by humanitarian officials. KANERE, on the other side, doesn’t have a furnished office except a mud-brick wall standing inside the refugee community in Kakuma One. Despite submitting proposals, KANERE has so far not secured any funding or material support from any Humanitarian Agencies in Kakuma. Its staff work entirely on a voluntary basis and some have done so for years. Nonetheless, global readers can find original refugee thoughts online that KANERE in its small capacity publishes.
In the four years since it was established, KANERE journalists have approached the UNHCR Head of Sub-Office, seeking better security measures for staff at KANERE and support to strengthen media freedom in Kakuma. In response to KANERE’s proposal for material assistance for the project, the former UNHCR Head of Sub-Office Dr. Mohamed Qassim, provided a letter on behalf of all Humanitarian Aid Agencies operating in Kakuma, stating that KANERE cannot be supported because the paper wishes to remain “purely independent.” He was referring to the fact that the KANERE team wishes to remain independent of UNHCR and NGO staff in the writing, reporting, and editing process. Of course, the relevant form of independence for a news outlet lies in management and editing rather than material support (major news outlets around the world routinely receive revenues from outside bodies without allowing them a role in editing and management of the news content). Unfortunately, mutual disaffection between KANERE Free Press and the camp governing authorities has persisted for years.
One minor distinction that readers will notice is that journalists’ names (or “by-lines”) appear in The Refugee Newsletter, providing an opportunity to credit and showcase the excellent work of refugee students who have reported a particular story for their paper. Meanwhile, KANERE articles are anonymous. Why is this? In 2009, KANERE’s editorial board was cautioned by NGO and UNHCR staff about security concerns involving refugee identity. To avoid exposing refugees’ identities, the board was advised by these officials to stop using refugee names in its publications, including journalist by-lines. KANERE stopped using by-lines in subsequent editions.
Benefits of diverse perspectives
KANERE welcomes any new emerging media voices in larger Kakuma. A distinct benefit of having two news outlets in the camp is to reach a larger audience and new readers.
Another benefit is to allow readers to compare and contrast differences between how the two papers report on refugee affairs inside Kakuma. Given the differences in editing and management (independent or NGO-run), it seems likely that the two newsletters will portray different perspectives in their reporting, and will emphasize distinct contents. Ultimately, the two newsletters may seek to serve different functions in their respective media outlet roles.
It is possible that the FilmAid-run newsletter may create some confusion among international readers who look up the Kakuma News expecting to find the independent refugee-run news outlet (KANERE) but encounter the Refugee Newsletter (available for downloading on NGO sites). In the opinion of some refugee individuals, UNHCR officials are aware that international readers may get confused between the two newsletters – thus helping their cause. These individuals regard the FilmAid-run newsletter as a response from UNHCR, who wish to demonstrate support for the freedom of media and expression inside a refugee camp through the well decorated newsletter produced under the guidance of FilmAid. Meanwhile, UNHCR has made no meaningful efforts to support the genuinely independent efforts of the KANERE news project.
Welcoming new voices
According to those of us here at KANERE, the more new voices that emerge, the better that it will shape media environment. There’s room for both the NGO-run and a refugee-run newsletter because each media outlet has a different purpose and function.
Going forward, what kind of journalism do we hope is practiced in Kakuma? Journalism that serves democracy and is genuinely interested in exposing issues of public importance would be the kind of the journalism that deserves protection. It should not matter where it takes place, be it inside a refugee camp, or indeed whether the people who work for it are paid or volunteer!
However, the major challenges for KANERE remain. Notably, KANERE lacks funding and material support simply because it wishes to remain a fully refugee-run as opposed to an NGO-run newsletter. Isn’t KANERE in a right position to be fully funded and equipped by UNHCR or other Aid Agencies in Kakuma?