Rony Brauman, RSF co-founder: I left because of the growing financial dependence

Rony Brauman

Telegraph Media journalists met in Paris with one of the founders of Reporters Without Borders – Rony Brauman, former president of the world-renowned humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders and current director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute with the University of Manchester.

Brauman, together with long-time RSF president Robert Menard and journalist and publisher Jean-Claude Guillebaud, founded the Paris-based NGO in 1985. Brauman and Guillebaud left the organisation in the mid-1990s after having a falling-out with Menard, who later became the driving force behind the so-called World Press Freedom Index. We asked Brauman for a sit-down, which was recorded with his express permission, to find out more about the idea behind creating the organisation, why he left and whether it still fulfills the same mission it had at its inception. He agreed to meet us with the qualification that he could not discuss the Index created by Menard and used by his followers and successors at the RSF helm to this day, seeing as he left the organisation 25 years ago and has no first-hand knowledge of its operations now. Menard himself stepped down as the RSF president in 2009 amidst controversy and is now the mayor of the French town of Béziers and has a lot of criticism for his successors. Having published a conversation with the current RSF President Pierre Haski (See here), Telegraph Media is now trying to get in touch with Menard in order to paint a complete picture of what exactly the RSF is.

Here is what Rony Brauman shared with Telegraph Media:

“There was a need for a follow-up in other countries, hit by a crisis, affected by any kind of bad event. What was noted was that in times of crisis there was a huge coverage by the media. But we did not know what was the result. So the first idea was to secure some kind of post crisis coverage. But that was the reason I was contacted by the real founder of RSF Robert Menard. It was may be a good idea in theory, but in practice it didn't work. … And so after a couple of years RSF switched to another type of action which was more or less Amnesty International for journalists. The right to inform and the right to be informed. My role in this new organisation was to be ghost writes with other people. I perfectly agreed, because we had to present ourselves, I was writing about the relationship between human rights and the right to inform.  And the good thing with RSF at that time was one particular chairman of RSF – Jean-Claude Guillebaud, a journalist and publisher,” Brauman said. The first initiatives in that direction were two conferences aimed at fostering “constructive spirit” and improving journalists’ practices by making them immune to propaganda when covering armed conflicts like the Gulf War of the early 1990s. “It was just amazing how journalists were open to the propaganda, to the version given by the military officers. The officers themselves were shocked by the lack of resistance, of curiosity,” Brauman explained. As the organisation grew in number of projects and popularity, however, things began to change. How exactly? “The first thing that changed was Robert Menard's approach. He gained self-confidence and considered more and more that RSF was his baby. That he was its sole father and that he had full responsibility. So the situation was becoming more and more tense, added to the fact that he was behaving like a dictator in RSF, with the staff. And there was also this issue, which was a political one as well, with the growing dependency of RSF to institutional funding from European families, governments, the European Commission. The problem was that it was a level of dependency which was growing and was bothering. There was double level of dependency – financial to the EU and companies and an institutional dependency. So that was one of the problems. The other issue that was raised by me and Guillebaud, who was chairman of the board, was that Menard was not interested in a very good relationship with the journalists, he was interested in a very good relationship with the owners. And that triggered the flash between Jean-Claude and me, on one side, and Robert, on the other,” Brauman summed up the situation. Asked whether he believes the RSF is fulfilling its original mission today, he carefully chose his words and offered a “very cautious yes”, adding, “Knowing well the NGO sector, I know that there might be problems.” He further elaborated, “More or less yes, but the devil is very often in the details and I do not know them. Promoting the freedom of speech and information and to provide means of defense to journalists. This is what it is doing. So yes, in theory I would say that it is loyal to this goal, but in practice…”


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